After a rare week off, NASCAR was back to business last weekend with round four of the 36-race Sprint Cup championship on the half-mile Bristol bullring in the mountains of east Tennessee. Kyle Busch came through to score his first win of the year and his fifth in a row at Bristol, including last Saturday’s second-division Nationwide race. In Sunday’s Sprint Cup event he beat Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson amid a late-race, three-way battle between this year’s title favourites. Edwards was on pole at Bristol while Johnson led the most laps, but it was Busch who came through to score Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing’s first victory of the year, becoming the series’ fourth different winner in 2011.
“Carl kept me honest,” said Busch. “I made a couple of mistakes but it all worked out. A couple of lapped cars held me up a bit, but our guys won this race by coming out of the pits first. I don’t know if I could have got by Carl. Our car was definitely better on the longer runs and we stretched it out a bit at the end. I was worried Jimmie might get by Carl and come and ramble me. But I felt good about what the guys did in the pits.”
Five-time champion Johnson also felt that the race was won in the pits. “Clean air is important, even here at Bristol. It makes a big difference. The number 99 car [Edwards] and I were relatively equal and whoever had clean air could get a little gap and that was it. It came down to that last pitstop. We just didn’t get off pitroad first and I think that’s where the race was decided, especially with Kyle. He restarts well and knows how to take advantage of a clean track. He really had control from the last restart.”
Edwards leads the Sprint Cup points, one ahead of Kurt Busch. Tony Stewart is 12 points behind in third, followed by Ryan Newman and Paul Menard. Bristol winner Busch is sixth, 17 points behind Edwards, and Johnson is 20 points behind the leader in seventh. Juan Pablo Montoya is hanging in there in eighth, just four points behind Johnson.
NASCAR races at the California Speedway next weekend and continues in action through the next four weekends followed by a break for Easter. Then the true grind of NASCAR’s marathon season begins with 13 weekends of racing through May, June and into July.