- Kyle Busch outclassed the field at Richmond
- Jeff Gordon couldn't survive a second restart
- Heath Calhoun 400 was uneventful, yet bizarre
The hothead displayed rarely seen maturity. The former champ minutes from his first win in months was happy with second place. The winning crew chief said that stepping on the field's neck would have been "selfish."
Bottom line, the right guy won as peculiar a race as Richmond International Raceway is likely to offer at last Saturday's Crown Royal, Heath Calhoun 400.
Though "peculiar" might be a synonym for "uneventful" in this particular case, there were several bizarre qualities. Lengthy green-flag runs. Minimal rubbing and banging. Few caution flags.
Several drivers even talked about having to "finesse" their cars around the track, a rare occurrence on the three-quarters-of-a-mile, D-shaped oval.
Nothing peculiar about the outcome. Kyle Busch's first win of 2010 was his second at RIR and ninth top-five finish in 11 Sprint Cup tries, first under the Hendrick Motorsports banner and now under Joe Gibbs Racing.
The young man known as "Rowdy" for his driving style, impatience and occasional impertinence, outclassed the field early. He then rebounded from a frustrating mid-race stretch to climb back into contention and re-started his way to Victory Lane over Jeff Gordon.
Busch won in a season dominated by the late-race crapshoots of the new green-white-checkered format, in combination with double-file restarts.
While Saturday's show didn't go G-W-C, it still included the elements that have come to define present-day Sprint Cup racing: lengthy green-flag runs early; late cautions that bunch the field; mad-dash scrambles to the checkered flag.
Fan-friendly and excitement-generating as the new format might be, most Cup races these days have a Pocono quality that provides plenty of time to mulch the flower beds or clean the garage and not miss a thing, provided you turn on the flat screen with 20 laps to go.
NASCAR's green-white- checkered format isn't close to the worst way to determine a winner. Penalty kick shootouts in soccer still get all of the first-place votes.
On Saturday, at least the appropriate gents were up front for the final dash. No one who was simply running laps, a la Ryan Newman at Phoenix or Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona, wound up with a gift pass to contention from the yellow flag and G-W-C gods.
Gordon, with one win in his last 87 races, survived one late restart and retained the lead. He couldn't survive a second, not with a rejuvenated Busch alongside him on the outside.
"Kyle was just unbelievable on the restarts," said Gordon, who thought Busch was the car to beat all night. "I followed him enough times early in the race to watch him run around the bottom on the inside. I knew that if I gave him the inside, he was going to drive by me faster than he did on the outside."
Speaking of Busch and faster, one unusual episode of racing esoterica was his team's decision as leader to pit midway through the race, with just eight cars on the lead lap. By pitting, they allowed 19 cars he had passed back onto the lead lap, courtesy of NASCAR's contemptible "wave around" rule.
"It would have been great to keep that many cars a lap down," Busch's crew chief, Dave Rogers, said. "It would have been selfish. Everybody behind us was going to pit. If we stay out, we keep all those guys down. Then, the seven guys behind us are going to drive by us, we're going to lose our track position just to keep cars down. It's not worth it.
"I didn't think keeping those cars a lap down was going to help us win the race. I thought keeping the track position was going to help us win the race."
So, being unselfish can help win a race. Who knew?
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.
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