This is going to get interesting.
Kyle Busch’s win in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway – a .532-second victory over elder brother Kurt – was the first since his return from a gruesome compound fracture of his right leg suffered at Daytona International Speedway in February. It also gave Busch a chance to qualify for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, if he is able to crack the Top-30 in championship points by the end of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway on September 12.
Busch elbowed his way past leader Jimmie Johnson with four laps remaining Sunday, then fended off a desperate charge by brother Kurt to win on the 1.99-mile road course, snapping a personal, 46-race winless streak and claiming the 30th checkered flag of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by defending series champion Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish, Jr. completed the Top-10.
“All right, park it right here and we'll walk in,” said Busch after a tumultuous, smoky post-race burnout that shredded the tires on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “Walking in on a broken leg and a broken foot, nothing better than doing that.
“(I) made it through today," said Busch, who described the pain as a 7-out-of-10 following Friday’s practice. "That's all that mattered. I knew it was going to get painful and I was going to have to power through it. When you've got fresh tires and seven laps to go and you see the checkered flag waiting for you, you forget about all those things."
While disappointed with his runner-up finish, Kurt Busch expressed both pride and happiness with seeing his younger brother in Victory Lane. "I'm very proud of Kyle for what he's done,” said Kurt afterward. “To get back in the car as soon as he did… (to) be competitive at a track with hard, hard braking and to use his left foot to drive to Victory Lane, I'm very proud of him. I just wish I could have one more lap to get to his bumper."
Bowyer’s third-place finish left the Kansas native thinking of what might have been, after contact with Matt Kenseth on the race’s final restart cost him a shot at Victory Lane “Everybody went high into my groove and opened it up for him,” said Bowyer, who restarted on new tires with just seven laps remaining. “He drove right into it and went on. He had the right line, and unfortunately I didn't. He beat me to the punch… and the rest was history. You hate to be in that situation. You've got to get rough, you've got to get aggressive. Matt and I got hooked up and about gave away our whole day. It just turned me right and damn near wrecked me. I wanted to win really bad. I got an opportunity and just couldn't capitalize.”
Jeff Gordon’s bid for a final victory in the state of his berth went wrong Sunday when an ill-handling race car in the early laps and a late pit-road penalty relegated him to a disappointing, 16th-place finish. Gordon’s penalty came when a crew member tossed a spring rubber over the wall, violating a NASCAR edict forbidding thrown equipment on pit road and forcing him to restart at the rear of the field. A late gambit left him on the track with old tires for the final restart, but he was helpless on the older rubber and faded to 16th.
“I was really optimistic going into the race,” said Gordon afterward. “Our car was good in practice (and) we qualified well. We tried to make a couple of adjustments and it seemed the track continued to lay rubber. Our setup -- which we were taking a little bit of a gamble and risk with -- just didn’t pay off for us.”
With the win, Busch now trails 30th-place Cole Whitt by 136 points with 10 regular-season races remaining, leaving him with precious little room for error the rest of the way. He will need to average approximately a 14-place finish to overhaul Whitt before the start of the Chase.
“We have our work cut out for us,” he admitted. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve had a couple crashes (a 36th-place finish at Dover and a 43rd-place showing at Michigan since returning to competition), but as much as I can do, that’s what we’re going to do. Certainly, it's feasible. There's no reason why it shouldn't be. This team is good enough to be that way, and I should be good enough to be that way.”