Kyle Busch dominates Sonoma for series-best fifth win of season

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SONOMA, Calif. -- The swagger had vanished, and the cocky confidence went with it. A two-week slump sent Kyle Busch spiraling into crankiness despite his hold atop the points standings.

With a win Sunday at Infineon Raceway, his mood instantly lifted.

Busch snapped his mini-slump by racing to his first Sprint Cup Series win on a road course with a Toyota that was so bad during practice he was certain he'd wreck. Instead, he made his series-high fifth visit to Victory Lane this season.

"I'm not happy unless I am winning, to be honest. I am a miserable person," he said. "But it means a lot to be able to run well and win. I'm a moody person, I guess. All of us drivers are when we're not having a good day. But when you have a good day and win races, it's kind of 'Sun's up.'"

Busch, who had a poor qualifying run and started 30th, steadily moved through the field and grabbed the lead away from defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya on an early restart. Nobody came close to taking the lead from him the rest of the way, but he did have to hold off a pair of challenges on two late restarts.

It was Busch's 11th overall victory this season spanning all three of NASCAR's top series. It also was his second road course victory of the year, following a Nationwide Series win in Mexico City in April.

Busch celebrated with his traditional smoky burnout, then climbed from his car for his customary bow to the crowd. For once, the fans were cheering the driver they so famously love to hate.

"I am really impressed with Kyle," said third-place finisher Jeff Gordon, his former teammate. "I've been around him, and I didn't think he's a really good road racer. So I think you've got to give that guy a lot of credit for his talent. To be able to get their car up front and maintain the position ... I would not have bet on that.

"Obviously, he's maturing and learning and that's what it's going to take for him to maintain that points lead."

Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing crew had to wrestle with his Toyota to make it comfortable for Busch. The team made a slew of changes following Friday and Saturday's practice sessions, but Busch still wasn't pleased as the start of the race approached.

"I'm not a very happy person right now," he said as he walked into the pre-race driver meeting.

That obviously changed as he charged through the field, settling down enough to inquire while leading what kind of food there would be on the plane ride home.

"We unloaded here and we were absolutely junk," Busch said. "When we were here Friday, I just thought it was going to be a dismal weekend and I was wondering what tire barrier we were going to put it in. It was a bad feeling, but these guys worked so hard.

"It's just phenomenal that we're able to be here in Victory Lane -- never before on a road course, in the Cup Series, so this is definitely really, really special. We came a long ways with this thing."

It was the remedy Busch needed after a frustrating two weeks. He won earlier this month at Dover, then embarked on his historic "triple" of three races at three different tracks in three days.

Although he finished second in the Truck Series race, the first leg of his journey, he wrecked his Cup car in practice the next day before jetting off to the Nationwide Series race. He wrecked in that event and finished 32nd, then wrecked in the Cup race and finished 43rd.

He wrecked in last week's Nationwide race, as well, and decided after not to hop all over the country this weekend to compete in the lower series' events in Milwaukee.

Team president J.D. Gibbs said all that extra racing didn't contribute to the slump.

"He can go run long and hard, he's still young and strong," Gibbs said of the 23-year-old.

David Gilliland finished a career-best second and was followed by Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears. Montoya was sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.

The race was fairly clean until the closing laps.

David Reutimann brought out a late caution when a flat tire caused him to run off course and into a wall of tires. That set up a restart with six laps to go, and Stewart quickly passed Jamie McMurray for second. But a spin by Kevin Harvick as they entered Turn 4 started a chain-reaction crash that took Stewart out of contention for challenging his teammate for the win.

"I haven't seen it, so it's not fair to comment on that," Stewart said.

It set up a final restart with three laps to go and Gilliland and Gordon lined up behind Busch. He pulled out to another insurmountable lead, but a wreck between Scott Pruett and Denny Hamlin brought out a red-flag so NASCAR could clean the track. The stoppage lasted 12 minutes, forcing Busch to sit idle and think about the impending three-lap sprint to the finish.

Busch once again moved out to a large lead, and the only real races for position were back in the pack. Montoya jockeyed for position with Mears and Elliott Sadler, while Kenseth, Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. mounted their own battle.

Montoya moved through the field early and took the lead until Busch grabbed it from him. But Montoya was spun by Marcos Ambrose while running second, and the contact dropped the Colombian to 14th.

Ambrose was later spun by Sadler, and the contact came as he was shifting -- causing him to break his gearbox. Ambrose, who was running fifth in his Sprint Cup Series debut, wound up 42nd.


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