By AMANDA VINCENT
Kyle Busch claimed his first win of 2015 Sunday with his victory of the Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway.
“This is awesome; it’s unbelievable. Can’t say enough about my team, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “I don’t know if they can all understand how it feels. There’s some sentimental fans out there, for sure, the ones that are cheering that normally wouldn’t cheer for me. It’s definitely special to be here in victory lane in a Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma.”
The win propelled Busch past the first of two obstacles between himself and entry into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup championship post-season. For the win to get him into the Chase, Busch will have to be in the top-30 of the championship points standings by the checkered flag on the Sept. 12 race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. With 10 races to go before the Chase, Busch is 37th in points, 136 points behind current 30th-place driver, Cole Whitt.
On newer tires, Busch drove up from seventh on a restart with seven laps to go to second in one lap and then by Jimmie Johnson for the lead another lap later.
“I felt like the sooner the better,” Busch said. “I couldn’t let him (Johnson) hold me up. I couldn’t let him break my momentum and everything I had going. It would just take too long for me to get it back.”
Johnson lost several more positions in the final laps, winding up sixth at the finish. Kurt Busch finished second, Clint Bowyer was third, Kevin Harvick fourth, and Joey Logano was fifth.
“Gene Haas (car owner) has given everything to me, and I wanted to deliver a win for him,” Kurt Busch said. “It was an incredible drive all day. The car was fast. I thought we had the right sequence. Kyle got a lucky break when that yellow came out and he got onto pit road and there were just too many caars between me and him on some of those restarts. I just didn’t quite get the restarts I needed.”
The yellow flag waved for the fifth and final time with 11 laps to go in the 110-lap race. Johnson stayed out while Bowyer, Kyle Busch and the other front-runners pitted. Bowyer and Busch were the first two off pit road and restarted sixth and seventh.
Two yellow flags on lap 74 and lap 78 left all drivers good to go the remaining distance without additional trips to pit road. Johnson restarted with the lead, Bowyer in second and Busch third. Busch and Bowyer battled for second while Johnson maintained his lead.
A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch started the race on the front row. Busch took the lead from pole sitter Allmendinger at the start and he and Allmendinger ran first and second until the first caution of the race on lap 21.
Busch and Alllmendinger pitted under the caution while eight cars stayed out. As a result, they restarted in the back of the top-10. Bowyer and Tony Stewart, on a pre-planned two-stop strategy, stayed out while most of the other six other cars that stayed out pitted earlier under green. Bowyer and Stewart made their first stops during a lap 28 caution.
Allmendinger and Kurt Busch were back inside the top-five for the restart. Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray restarted on the front row.
Allmendinger and Kurt Busch quickly moved back into the top-two of the running order, with Busch retaking the lead and Allmendinger second, but they gave up the positions to pit under green just before the halfway point of the race, handing the lead over to Johnson. Allmendinger’s bid for the win went away a few laps later with an additional 25-second pit stop to remedy a mechanical issue and then a related trip to the garage to change the fuel cell in his No. 47 Chevrolet.
“The car was good,” Allmendinger said. “I thought we had a better chance of winning this year than we did last year. It was still going to be tough.”
Busch eventually worked his way back up to second with Johnson a third of a lap ahead. Johnson had yet to make a second pit stop.
Johnson, utilizing a two-stop strategy, gave up a 28-second lead to pit for the final time with 43 laps to go. Busch re-assumed the lead.
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