Ever feel tens of thousands of people root for a wreck, a spin, a fender-bender, a piece of debris on the track in a race that had more than its share of caution flags already?
That's what it felt like late Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway as Kyle Busch pulled away in the final 50 laps of the Russ Friedman Likes Him Some Purple Bag Whiskey 400.
Busch, you might recall, has a history at RIR. He is wicked good here, and some would say just plain wicked, as well.
He has made a habit of top-five finishes in his brief career — seven in nine Sprint Cup races, to be exact — after his first Sprint Cup victory at RIR.
Busch also won the Nationwide race here Friday night, not to mention an all-star race Thursday night down the road at Southside Speedway over hometown fave Denny Hamlin.
But Busch also cemented his position as Public Enemy No. 1 for Junior Nation here last May. He traded paint with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final laps, with Junior getting the worst of it and finishing 15th after leading the race.
Busch, at age 24, has put together a remarkable run since coming onto the circuit. He is accorded grudging respect among fans because of his aggressiveness and perceived arrogance, but is highly respected in the garage.
"He's pretty good," third-place finisher Jeff Burton said. "You are what your record says you are. … Everything he sits in, he goes pretty fast."
Burton and runner-up Tony Stewart — everybody behind Busch, really — could have used a late caution. Once Busch took over the lead, he pulled away, and no one was going to catch him without some yellow.
The evening ended almost as well for Burton as it did in frustration, again, for Hamlin.
Burton, the South Boston native, overcame a mid-race spin with Earnhardt to finish third. Strangely, he said his car got better after the incident.
Hamlin, meanwhile, had what appeared to be the best car for the second consecutive May. He walked away from RIR last spring as frustrated as any time in his career.
Best car. Best run. Hometown track. Zero to show for it.
Well, not quite zero. He finished 24th, but it might as well have been 124th.
Hamlin led 381 of the first 382 laps — an absurd number, an unbelievable number at a short track.
Then he cut a tire and essentially became a spectator as Clint Bowyer won a race that Hamlin should have won.
Hamlin said that it took him a couple of months to get over last year's Richmond disappointment. Two last-lap losses at Bristol stung as well, but the fact that he won the Nationwide race the night before and clearly had the best car the next night in front of the hometown posse was particularly galling.
Then, Saturday night, Hamlin led the most laps again. Not nearly as many as last year, but he fell off to a 14th-place finish.
"You know it's frustrating for him, but the good thing is he has a chance to do it again in the fall," Stewart said. "He doesn't have to wait a whole year to try again."
Hamlin needed fewer than 75 laps to track down Jeff Gordon, who had the best car early, tailed off a bit in the middle, then re-emerged late.
From there, Hamlin cycled through pit stops after cautions. Hamlin wasn't always first out of the pits, but it rarely took him more than several laps to regain the lead.
Hamlin quickly reeled in Bowyer after a caution just past the quarter-mark. He overtook Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman following a yellow not long past the halfway point.
Hamlin had some heavy lifting after his pit crew had lug-nut issues following a caution on lap 274. He emerged eighth from the pits, testing both his equipment and his patience as various competitors spun, banged and caused more havoc in the next 75 laps.
After the final restarts, Hamlin never got higher than fifth and again finished as a spectator as Busch dominated late.
"It's always been up there," Busch said of winning at RIR, "and to finally get one here, I've been close so many times but never have been able to get a win here. This is pretty cool. I'm so excited to win here. You never know what can happen coming into a weekend, and this weekend was pretty special."
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.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times