Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kyle Busch sweeps at Richmond

Winning the Nationwide Series race Friday night at Richmond International Raceway wasn't enough for Kyle Busch; he had to take the Sprint Cup Series race, the Crown Royal presents the Russ Friedman 400, on Saturday night as well. In winning that race, Busch becomes the second Sprint Cup driver ever to win on his birthday.

Cale Yarborough was the only other driver to do it. He performed the feat twice.

Busch wasn't his usual dominant self; at the start of the race, he had a top-10 car at best. The dominant car was that of hometown boy Denny Hamlin, who led a race-high 148 laps before a lug nut miscue in the pits put him back in the field and relegated Hamlin to a 14th-place finish.

Even after Hamlin's problem, it appeared Jeff Gordon would be the one to beat. But his strategy of staying out proved costly, as his car fell off in the closing laps -- Gordon would finish eighth, his first top-10 since winning at Texas three races ago.

Busch jumped to the high side on a restart with 49 laps to go to overtake Gordon. He then weaved through lapped traffic, keeping a steady advantage even as Tony Stewart moved up to second and appeared to be closing the gap. Stewart, looking for his first win as an owner-driver, just ran out of laps.

It wasn't all doom and gloom for Stewart, though; on top of his second-place finish -- his fourth top-5 in the last five races -- his teammate Ryan Newman came in fourth. That made back-to-back top-5s for Newman, who now sits 10th in the standings. With Stewart sitting in third as well, it's clear Stewart Haas Racing is a lot farther along than anyone could've anticipated.

Look for Stewart and Newman to make multiple trips to Victory Lane this season. This is also by far Stewart's best start to a season ever; he normally struggles until late June, early July. That Stewart is this strong, this soon, should give everyone else in the garage reason to worry.

Then again, it's hard for Busch to worry about much of anything as often as he's been pulling in checkered flags since joining Joe Gibbs Racing. At just 24, Busch has 50 wins in NASCAR's top three national touring series. He has 11 Cup wins in just 46 races with JGR.

Chemistry was certainly a factor in his release from Hendrick Motorsports -- and part of the reason he only won four races in three full seasons before leaving after the 2007 campaign. There are no such issues at JGR, though, where owner Joe Gibbs has always found a way to make all the different personalities -- even the petulent ones -- come together and find success. I'm not sure how the combination of Busch and crew chief Steve Addington works, but it does.

It's still too soon to tell whether Busch will win the championship this year -- he's still too much of an all-or-nothing driver (a lot of torn-up race cars, a lot of low finishes), and his attitude might very well cost him. But the talent and the resources are certainly there, and there is no track on the circuit that Busch can't win at. One might think Darlington would give him fits, like it does most younger drivers, but Busch won there last year.

There's also the matter of guys like Gordon and Stewart, not to mention Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Johnson's the master of the Chase format, while Kurt Busch has shown a career renaissance few thought possible. The first three years at Penske Racing were a struggle for Kurt, but he's already got one win this year, and he's shown he can compete at all types of tracks this year.

Kyle may yet hoist the trophy at Homestead, but he'll have to fight off a few guys to do it -- maybe even his older brother.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Crown Royal presents the Russ Friedman 400
1. Kyle Busch*
2. Tony Stewart
3. Jeff Burton
4. Ryan Newman*
5. Mark Martin
6. Sam Hornish Jr.
7. Jamie McMurray
8. Jeff Gordon*
9. Casey Mears
10. Juan Pablo Montoya
11. Marcos Ambrose
12. Kurt Busch*
13. Matt Kenseth
14. Denny Hamlin**
15. Brian Vickers*
16. Robby Gordon
17. Greg Biffle
18. Clint Bowyer*
19. Joey Logano
20. Reed Sorenson
21. A.J. Allmendinger
22. Martin Truex Jr.*
23. David Ragan
24. Michael Waltrip
25. Elliott Sadler
26. Carl Edwards
27. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
28. David Reutimann
29. Kasey Kahne
30. Paul Menard
31. Bobby Labonte
32. John Andretti
33. Scott Speed
34. Kevin Harvick
35. Jeremy Mayfield
36. Jimmie Johnson
37. Mike Bliss
38. David Stremme
39. David Gilliland
40. Joe Nemechek
41. Tony Raines
42. Scott Riggs
43. Dave Blaney

*led a lap (5 bonus points)
**led most laps (5 more bonus points)

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