Kyle Busch (#18 M&Ms Toyota) put an exclamation on his recovery from a horrific wreck at the start of the season by taking a dramatic victory in Sunday’s 27th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the picturesque Sonoma Raceway road course.
Following Kyle across the finish line was his older brother Kurt Busch (#41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) giving them their first one-two finish ever in NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“This is awesome. It is really cool to come home one-two today, especially on a road course,” said Kyle. “To have both Busch brothers be as good as we are and to be winning in Sprint Cup is certainly a true testament to our family.”
Busch was still feeling the effects of the severe injuries he suffered in February after he smashed hard into a concrete barrier at Daytona during a NASCAR Xfinity Series race. He broke his left leg and shattered his left foot, spent several weeks in the hospital and went through two months of heavy rehab before finally returning to the car just five races ago.
“I burned off the rear tires celebrating on the front straight and had to walk over here which wasn’t too smart,” laughed Busch in victory lane, who still has a noticeable limp. “It is a little sore right now, but I’m sure I will notice it more tomorrow.”
The victory was Kyle Busch’s 30th career NASCAR Sprint Cup win, tying him with Kevin Harvick for 23rd on the all-times wins list.
Completing the top five were Clint Bowyer (#15 5-Hour Energy Drink Toyota), Harvick (#4 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Joey Logano (#22 Shell Pennzoil Ford).
Vallejo native Jeff Gordon contended for much of the race, but a pit infraction dropped him to the rear of the field. He would eventually battle back to a 16th place finish is his final start on his home track.
“I know it wasn’t the finish we all wanted, but it was still a very memorable weekend,” said Gordon. “It was fun to hang out with some friends and family here and the fans were just great to me all weekend.”
Several drivers rotated in and out of the top 10 throughout the day as fuel windows, caution flags and tire wear which caused teams to employ a variety of pit strategies.
It appeared that Jimmie Johnson (Lowe’s Chevrolet) made the correct call by using a two-stop strategy. He seemed to have the race well in hand heading into the final stages of the 110-lap event when Casey Mears (#13 GEICO Chevrolet) lost his rear axle with just 10 laps to go bringing out the fifth and final yellow-caution of the race.
Johnson, who had led the previous 25 laps suddenly faced a decision whether he was going to pit or not during the ensuing caution.
It was a no win situation for the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion. When Johnson opted to stay out practically everyone else in contention behind him quickly dove for the pits to get fresh tires.
When the race resumed Kyle Busch found himself in the fourth row behind the leaders Johnson and Jamie McMurray (#1 Cessna Chevrolet) who, along with a few others, elected to stay on the track during the caution to gain position.
After the restart, Busch used his fresh tire advantage to quickly slice through the pack and give chase to the two leaders. It took him just a single lap to squeeze past McMurray and one more to charge past the struggling Johnson for the lead and ultimately the victory.
“At first I felt pretty good about things and then after about a lap and half they were on me and I then after about a lap and half they were on me and I wasn’t feeling so good,” explained Johnson who fell to sixth. “We played it perfectly and we were one caution away from it working out just right.”
Kurt Busch also mounted a late race charge that moved him up to second, but he ran out of laps before he was able to mount a serious challenge for the lead and finished .532 seconds behind his brother.
“Can you imagine we have over 800 (Sprint Cup) starts between us and almost 30 wins each and this was the first time we finished one-two. That is a pretty special moment,” said Kurt. “I just wish I could have gotten up there and moved him.”
Johnson continues to lead the Race for the Chase with four wins while Harvick holds the lead in points with 616 as the series next heads back to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.