Kyle Busch clinches Chase’s top spot
Kyle Busch put to rest any thoughts of a slump with his victory Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y. After rivals Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon said during the week they thought he was slipping following two straight lackluster finishes, Busch answered by making NASCAR history.
He led 52 laps from the pole and won the Centurion Boats at The Glen at Watkins Glen International to become the first driver in NASCAR’s history to win three road-course races in one season.
“To be a force to be reckoned with means a lot,” Busch said. “This year has just been phenomenal. It’s just crazy.”
Busch, who also clinched the top spot in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup title, has won 16 races in NASCAR’s top three series this season -- eight in Sprint Cup, six in Nationwide and two in trucks. His win Sunday completed a trifecta on road courses that includes the Nationwide race in Mexico in April and the Cup race at Sonoma in June.
Busch also joined another select group. Only Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon had swept both Cup road course events in the same year.
Busch has won four of the last seven races. His victory Sunday gives him 80 bonus points for the Chase, 50 more than Carl Edwards with four races remaining before the postseason.
After a 43-minute red-flag stoppage because of a multicar pileup with eight laps to go, Busch held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Stewart, who settled for his second consecutive runner-up finish.
“I never could get the runs in the right spots,” said Stewart, who has finished second twice here in the last three years. “I needed to stay with him to be close enough to try to make a move in a braking zone. We never could get close enough to get an opportunity.”
Marcos Ambrose of Tasmania, who started last in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, finished third a day after winning the Nationwide race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has never won a Cup race on a road course, took off to a big lead after passing Busch on the second lap and figured to be a strong contender. But poor pit strategy derailed his effort and he finished 22nd after leading 33 laps and fell two slots in the standings to fourth.
Johnson had a strong car too, but an unscheduled pit stop for a tire problem spoiled his chances of notching the first road-course victory of his career.
Running up front most of the day around the 2.45-mile, 11-turn course, Busch allowed Stewart to pass him on Lap 54 so Stewart could collect five bonus points for leading, then quickly regained the top spot when Stewart moved over the next time around.
Busch and Stewart made their final pit stop one lap later and regained the top two spots on Lap 65 when Earnhardt gave up the lead and pitted under caution, losing all of his track position.
“He was fast,” Busch said of Stewart. “I knew that he was going to be good. We both came in together and left together, and that was probably the win right there, to be able to beat him off pit road. Once we did that, I kind of got up through the [S-turns] better than him and we pulled away.”
Tony Schumacher raced to his fourth consecutive victory and ninth of the season, winning the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., to move within two of Joe Amato’s top-fuel win record of 52.
Schumacher powered his dragster to a performance of 3.865 seconds at 310.05 mph to outrun Cory McClenathan (3.900 at 306.74) in the final round.
“I don’t want to be the weak link in our team, so I am working harder than ever,” Schumacher said. “When you have the car that’s supposed to win, that’s a lot of pressure.”
Tony Pedregon, Kurt Johnson and Matt Smith also won their divisions in the NHRA Powerade drag racing series event, the 16th of 18 events in the Countdown to 10, NHRA’s regular season. The Countdown to 1, NHRA’s six-race championship playoffs, begins Sept. 11 at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.
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*--* Driver Pts Behind 1. Kyle Busch 3,254 -- 2. Carl Edwards 3,012 242 3. Jimmie Johnson 3,010 244 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,985 269 5. Jeff Burton 2,945 309 6. Jeff Gordon 2,754 500 7. Tony Stewart 2,744 510 8. Kasey Kahne 2,713 541 9. Denny Hamlin 2,689 565 10. Greg Biffle 2,689 565 11. Kevin Harvick 2,670 584 12. Matt Kenseth 2,628 626 *--*