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Auto Racing: Richmond cures what ails Kyle Busch at Capital City 400

BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH

RICHMOND—Late in Saturday night’s Capital City 400, it seemed the only driver who could stop Kyle Busch from winning his fourth straight spring race here was Tony Stewart. And, according to Stewart, the only thing that kept him from winning was a plastic bottle.

With Stewart seemingly headed to a comfortable victory, a yellow flag was waved for debris on Lap 386. Stewart said it was a bottle that had been sitting there for the previous eight laps.

Regardless, the field was bunched back together. Busch emerged from a pit stop with the lead, had a strong restart and stormed to a comfortable win.

“I don’t know where that last caution came from,” Busch said. “But that was our saving grace today.”

It is the first victory of the season for Busch, whose dominance of Richmond International Raceway continued. Dale Earnhardt Jr. placed second and is now just five points behind series leader Greg Biffle in the point standings.

Stewart finished third. His No. 14 Chevrolet seemed to be the most dangerous car, except for two key areas: pit stops and restarts. And the late caution flag brought both of those elements into play.

“When the caution flag is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good about that one,” he said. “We’ve got some work to do on our pit stops right now. I don’t know what their malfunction was, but I’m pretty ticked off about it tonight.”

Missed opportunities were the theme of the evening.

On Lap 311, Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet made contact with an outside wall and the debris from his car led to a caution flag. Jimmie Johnson entered pit road just before the caution flag came out, and his unfortunate timing was compounded by an error by one of his crew members. The No. 48 team received a tire violation for rolling a tire to the pit stall rather than handing it off to a crew member.

That misstep pushed Johnson back to the rear of the field.

Then, on the green flag, former race leader Carl Edwards received a black flag for jumping the restart too early. He had to drive through pit road on his next lap, and he dropped to 15th place.

Edwards said he had been told by his spotter that he was the race leader. So when he ended up at a disadvantage on the outside lane, he put a surge into his restart. But NASCAR stated that Stewart was in first during the caution, and Edwards was second.

“If they’re saying I jumped the restart, that’d be real frustrating,” Edwards said, “because I started the same way I’d been starting all night.”

When the dust from these errors settled, Stewart was in the lead, and Busch was nipping at his bumper.

By Lap 385, Stewart stretched his lead over Busch to about three seconds, but the fateful caution flag came out, bunching the field back together for one final run. Stewart’s team had some trouble on the pit stop, and Busch emerged in first.

“Once I got our front, I knew I had 10 laps left,” Busch said, “and I could abuse the heck out of [my car].”

After crossing the finish line he turned victory donuts and revved up his engine, sending plumes of smoke wafting into the crowd.

Busch, who entered the evening in 13th place in the standings, snapped a 20-race winless streak. By winning his fourth consecutive spring race at RIR, he broke a tie with Richard Petty for the longest streak in track history.

“We were being aggressive when it mattered,” Busch said, “yet saving our tires when we could.”

A drenching rain swept through the Richmond area about five hours before last night’s race. The teams’ pit road wagons were covered by tarps, and when the rain subsided to a drizzle, the usual pre-race revelry of fans was tempered.

After the rain stopped completely, an autumn-like chill lingered, as fans sat in the stands covered in hats and jackets, and there were noticeable empty areas along the backstretch.

The race was mostly uneventful for long stretches at the start. On Lap 27, Edwards slithered through lap traffic and took the lead from pole-sitter Mark Martin.

At the midway point, Stewart pushed past Edwards on the backstretch, just the second lead change of the night. Kevin Harvick claimed the lead after a green-flag pit stop seven laps later before Edwards pushed back in front on Lap 220.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

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