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Kyle Busch rallies to beat Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton to win an unusual Richmond 400

  Kyle Busch! And the first tour win for crew chief Dave Rogers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


     By Mike Mulhern

    Jeff Gordon lost again.
    And Kyle Busch finally won, with new crew chief Dave Rogers.
    Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer showed again that team owner Richard Childress is not only well on the comeback trail but in the thick of the fight each week, and Harvick goes this week to Darlington atop the Sprint Cup standings.
    Juan Pablo Montoya did a yeoman's job at a track he doesn't like.
    And Carl Edwards fought back to score a top-five and lead his first laps of the season.
   Everyone else in Saturday night's Richmond 400 – the Heath Calhoun 400, named for the Iraq war Army veteran – was pretty much so much cannon fodder, even Jimmie Johnson.
    Gordon had the dominant car down the stretch of Saturday 400-lapper at Richmond International Raceway, but a late yellow set up a five-lap shootout, with a double-file restart, and Busch – who had the best car early on – outran Gordon to win his first Sprint Cup of the season. http://bit.ly/dklImK
    The win was Rogers' first as Busch's crew chief. And it came the night before Busch's 25th birthday.
   Busch led 221 of the first 225 laps of the 400, but then Gordon took command. However Busch made a late stop with about 25 laps to go for four new tires, while Gordon, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick decided not to pit, to keep track position. Those new tires – again – made a difference, though it's unclear just how much.
    Gordon wasn't blaming tires for the loss, but rather Busch's strength.
    "I didn't want to see any yellows at the end, and I certainly didn't want to have to race Kyle, he was so good on restarts," Gordon said.
   "A lot of people doubted what we were doing, but I didn't," Busch said, referring to the crew chief change he insisted upon, bringing in Rogers to replace veteran Steve Addington late last fall, in a controversial move.
   That final restart?  "I don't remember how it happened," Busch said. "I just drove it down into turn one and hoped it stuck. I knew I had to baby it in turn three and get a good run off turn four. Then those guys behind me got to racing, and that's something you like to see when you're leading."
   "Kyle was so strong on restarts all night, he was head and shoulders above everyone on restarts," Gordon said. "I got a good restart, but Kyle got one too. And I had to settle for second.
   "We've got to figure out how to win these races with these late cautions."
    Gordon has had eight seven place finishes since his last tour victory, at Texas a year ago.
    With Jimmie Johnson having an off-night, Harvick, finishing third, took over the Sprint Cup tour points lead: "It's fun to been racing for wins. We've done that several times this year, and after winning last week (at Talladega) and being close this week, we're leading the points at the end of 10 weeks now...so there is no reason we can't make it after the last ten." 
   That of course is the 10-race chase.
   The race was remarkable calm, with very few incidents, which Harvick conceded was quite unusual for this place, where the action is typically wild. Harvick and Gordon said that was in large part because the cars seemed so skittish that drivers were working hard not to overdrive.
    Well, not Busch, the tour's Mr. Excitement. And that last yellow gave him the opportunity he needed to take the game to Gordon, with a side-by-side restart with five laps to go, with Gordon leading and taking the inside lane.
   "I figured I'd get the outside for that restart, because everyone had taken the bottom," Busch, who took the lead moments later, said. "I knew if I could just get through turn three okay, and then get off turn four strong....but a plan? No, I was just going to try to make something happen."
    Down the stretch it was Gordon versus Harvick versus Burton, with Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya playing catch-up.
    Burton, who wound up fourth, is still looking for his first win in a quite a while, but he's had strong cars all spring: "We have been really happy with the way our cars have run this year. We've been in position to win a lot of races...and led a lot of races...and haven't found a way to do it.
    "This was kind of like that. Kyle was able to make something happen on the outside that I couldn't make happen. We were good, but we weren't quite good enough to get it done.
   "We wanted what Kyle got...but we needed what we got. We've been running really well, and we just haven't been knocking finishes off.
   "This is what we needed, to try to get some momentum going and laying some advantages down.
    "We were a little conservative at the end because of the way things have been going (like that late-race crash at Talladega last weekend). We needed to not turn a good finish into a 25th or something.
    "So we were a little more conservative than I wanted to be.
   "But I still don't think we had anything for Gordon.
    "Then Kyle made something happen there that I couldn't make happen.
     "One of the things I've done a good job of in my career is getting finishes and not making mistakes. This year I've looked like a rookie on a lot of occasions, and I have been really disappointed in myself on a few occasions. I wanted to be more aggressive at the end, but we just couldn't afford to right now."
     Johnson ended the race on a thrilling note, when he tangled with Clint Bowyer the last lap. "We had guys on (fresh) tires, and I wasn't on tires, and we were just fighting really hard for that spot," Johnson said. "Clint got inside of me off turn four, and I could hear him in the gas, and I wasn't going to let off.
   "We touched tires, and around we went. Luckily I don't think anyone hit anything hard.
    "And exciting finish for the fans."

    Rogers' first tour win was a big plus for Busch too, who called for the change. And this win was Busch's first tour victory since Bristol last August.
   "The team is progressing, communication between Kyle and me is getting better, and we're making progress," Rogers said. "I'm not a guy who shoots from the hip; I'm very methodical."
  "I saw a turnaround in the team last year (when he made the crew chief switch)...and this year I've tried to let Dave make this his race team, and we've tried to be patience," Busch said. "I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Dave. All our guys have stepped up our game."
    Why was Busch so confident that the crew chief change would work, and why so patient? After all it takes guts to plug in a new crew chief after 13 tour wins with Steve Addington.
   "I've worked with Dave before; he's a smart guy, a methodical thinker, uses all our tools, and makes everyone work harder," Busch said. "Dave has pushed things and it's paid off.
    "We both have the same personality, which may be scary. We're fiery guys....and that makes us a team that works well together.
    "It was a long end of the year last year (with the change). I knew we wouldn't come out of the boxing winning (last fall, after the crew chief change), though we came darned close at Texas, if we'd had another couple miles of gas.
    "And maybe we should have won a couple weeks ago (at Phoenix). But we need to keep this momentum rolling to Darlington, which is a tough track for me, though I have won there."
    The restarts? Busch was brilliant. But he had to battle head games with Gordon in those. And Busch seemed a little upset with those games Gordon was playing.
     But this, Busch said, is 'the new Kyle Busch,' though that is not a new refrain.
    The 'new' Kyle Busch? Owner Joe Gibbs said Busch winning the Nationwide championship last season made a difference in his driver: "If this had been last year, you'd have probably seen a different reaction...so I appreciate the 'new' Kyle," Gibbs said, referring a tough stretch midway through Saturday's race.
   Busch, in a side note, is embroiled in some odd contracting dispute over the construction of the Charlotte area building that is to house his new NASCAR Truck operation, with liens reported and unpaid bills. Busch says all that is not his problem.
   What is going on there?  "I think that's in reference to my building," Busch said. "I don't own the building. I have a team that takes care of that. All I know is I'm not in it, and I'm not happy."

    Gordon conceded Busch had the best car most of the night. "Kyle was just the class of the field there early...and I don't know what happened to him, but he started falling backwards.
    "We had some issues too at that same time. But we were able to maintain, and then get the lead from Burton, and then pulled away.
    "I knew I didn't want to see cautions at the end, because our car was not really very good on restarts.
    "Then Harvick and Burton were racing each other and we pulled away, and I said 'Please, no cautions.' And sure enough, the caution came out.
    "You didn't want to have to race him in a shootout like that.
     "A little disappointed again that we are coming up short...but we are getting plenty of practice at this green-white-checkered shootouts. Hopefully when it counts later in the season, we'll make it count."

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The finishing order of Saturday night's Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond International Raceway

  Kyle Busch wins from the pole, a rarity for him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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