Kurt Busch took the lead for good with 11 laps remaining in the 500-lap STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sunday and held off Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps to claim his first win since late 2011. Johnson finished second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it (beat Johnson),” Busch said. “He’s the king here — him and (Jeff) Gordon.”
Johnson dominated the race, leading 296 laps. In the early going, he was challenged by the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Kyle Busch, Denny and Matt Kenseth, in addition to Joey Logano. All eventually faded weren’t factors at the end. Kenseth did regain some of his lost track position by staying out during a caution on lap 250, but he lost ground on older tires, eventually falling off the lead lap. He also had trouble on pit road after being on the receiving end of contact from Carl Edwards that spun his car around backwards in his pit stall. Kenseth was able to get back on the lead lap and wound up finishing six. Logano wound up fourth and the Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five.
Earnhardt and Kurt Busch stayed out on the track during a caution on lap 219 to gain track position and restarted first and second. By that time, Earnhardt had raced from his 26th starting spot to the top-five. Busch overcame early-race damage from a pit road incident that also involved Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne. Keselowski blamed Busch for the incident, and after spending 31 laps in the garage for repairs to his car, Keselowski returned to the track and hounded Busch for several laps as payback.
“I started to check up, and I just barely got in the back of him (Kahne) and Kurt just accelerated and drove through us, absolutely drove through us,” Keselowski said. “I tell you what, I’m about tired of his recklessness.”
After the incident, Busch expressed frustration, reporting to his team that their day was probably done. It wasn’t
“We won; we’re not worrying about that nonsense right now,” a happier Busch said later. “We are a winner.”
Another caution came out on lap 231, before cars on fresher tires had much of a chance to overtake Earnhardt and Busch on their older tires, and Busch and Earnhardt ran in or near the top-five for the remainder of the race.
Later, Johnson was challenged up front by Edwards and Clint Bowyer. Edwards and Bowyer got off pit road second and third to Johnson during a lap-410 caution. Edwards battled Johnson for several laps before fading to fifth and spinning to bring out the 14th and final caution of the race on lap 459. Bowyer then lost positions on pit road because of a slow stop.
Busch moved up to second on the restart that followed and then took the lead for the first time with 28 laps to go. Johnson retook the lead several laps later, but soon lost the spot to Busch.
“I had been loose in the final third of the race and was just hanging on there,” Johnson said. “I was hoping he’d wear his stuff out.”
Kevin Harvick finished seventh, Aric Almirola eighth, Bowyer ninth, and Paul Menard was 10th.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR