Kyle Busch back with a vengeance
RICHMOND, Va. -- Kyle Busch started on the pole, led the most laps and appeared unbeatable at the halfway mark of the Heath Calhoun 400.
In the end, all that domination didn't mean much. All that mattered was showing he could get up on the wheel on the last restart and muscle the No. 18 Toyota past Jeff Gordon, the snakebit driver of 2010.
Busch is back rowdy as ever on the racetrack, at least for one night. The 0.75-mile Richmond short track is his happy place.
He won this event last year with Steve Addington on the pit box. He won Saturday with Dave Rogers, the first victory for his new crew chief.
"I just can't thank Dave enough," Busch said. "A lot of people doubted what we were doing [changing crew chiefs], but I never did."
Busch ended his 21-race losing streak, dating back to last season. Rogers moved up from the Nationwide team and replaced Addington with three races remaining last season. So the Busch-Rogers duo was 0-for-12.
Addington ended up moving to the No. 2 Dodge with big brother Kurt Busch. They won earlier this year in Atlanta and some people wondered which brother got the better end of the deal.
"Dave and I have the same mentality, which might be scary to some people," Kyle Busch said. "We're both fiery competitors. We both get upset when things don't do well, but we understand each other. It actually works pretty good."
Kyle kept the faith while he and Rogers tried to find the right chemistry. It looked right for more than 200 laps Saturday. Busch was making it a laugher.
Richmond, which normally has some of the best racing action in NASCAR, never looked so boring at the halfway mark in its first race with the rear spoiler.
Busch lapped more than half the field before half the race was complete. Only eight cars were on the lead lap before a caution allowed 23 cars to take the wave around.
Busch didn't get passed on the track until Lap 230, when Jeff Burton took the lead. Then things started going backward for Busch. The car wouldn't turn and he started dropping positions.
"The old Kyle would have folded," said Busch, who turned 25 an hour after the race ended. "The new Kyle hung in there. I'm getting old. I feel that way, anyway. I kept driving every lap with what I had."
Busch kept his cool, and so did Rogers. Busch worked his way to second when the deciding restart came.
"We had such a strong car, and I got a little lazy on my adjustments and we fell behind," Rogers said. "But having Kyle near the front on late restarts, your odds are always good."
The opposite was true for Gordon, who has seen this scenario a few times this year. He led 144 laps, all of which came in the second half of the race. Gordon held off the challenge of a couple of late restarts, but he knew he was in trouble when Busch started next to him on the last restart with five laps to go.
Busch made the high line work, pushing ahead of Gordon on the outside in Turn 2 and making it stick down the backstretch and into Turns 3 and 4.
"Kyle was so strong on restarts all night," Gordon said. "He was head and shoulders above everybody. We had a couple of decent restarts, but that last one I was just too loose to get going. We're going to have to figure out how to win this late restarts. We're sure getting a lot of practice at it."
Gordon can't catch a break. His winless streak now has reached 39 races, but he has finished second eight times over that span. After a two-week spat with teammate Jimmie Johnson, Victory Lane was moments away before Busch did his restart magic.
The win eluded Gordon again, but he sees the bright side.
"We are a team that has made huge strides this season," Gordon said. "Even though we finished third in points last year, I don't feel we were near as competitive as we are now. If we keep running like this I think the wins will come."
Busch felt the same way after failing to make the Chase last season. One man ended his losing streak and one is still waiting. But both left feeling they can challenge Johnson for the Cup title.
So did Kevin Harvick, who finished third and moved ahead of Johnson for the points lead. Johnson finished 10th.
Rowdy is a winner again, Gordon is a weekly contender and Harvick tops the standings. Whether it's restarts or rear spoilers or something else, more competition up front is a good thing.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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