Kyle Busch Holds Off Challengers In An Exciting Aaron's 499
In a race that saw 52 lead changes, it seemed certain that front-running Kyle Busch would be passed at some point during the final five laps of Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Instead, Busch managed to hold off a horde of challengers over the closing laps and come away with his first career victory at Talladega. In the process, he gave Joe Gibbs Racing a sweep of the two-race Aaron’s Dream Weekend. JGR teammate Tony Stewart won the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday.
With considerable drafting help from Juan Pablo Montoya, Busch battled back from running outside the top-30 for much of the afternoon, and then passed leaders Michael Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson on lap 184 of the 188-lap race.
Several drivers jockeyed for position to take a shot at passing Busch during those final laps, but nobody was able to get by him.
“Montoya was my savior today. He pushed me all the way to the front,” said Busch, who fell behind early in the race because of a mistake on pit road. “He got us all the way to the front, and then we rode there. We just kept blocking them like we needed to in order to stay up front.”
Montoya finished second and Busch teammate Denny Hamlin came in third. David Ragan was fourth, followed by Brian Vickers fifth, Travis Kvapil sixth, Casey Mears seventh, Ryan Newman eighth, Clint Bowyer ninth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10th.
NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Burton finished 12th and maintained a slim 22-point edge over Busch in the standings. Jeff Gordon, who has six career victories at Talladega and won both of last year’s Cup races at the track, got shuffled back near the end and finished 19th. And Stewart lost his chance at sweeping both weekend races when a tire blew on his car with 44 laps to go.
Busch now has seven NASCAR victories this season: two in Sprint Cup, three Nationwide and two in the Craftsman Truck Series. But it appeared Sunday’s victory wouldn’t happen after Busch fell a lap down when he missed his pit stall.
“Midway through the race, we figured there was no way Kyle was going to win it,” team owner Joe Gibbs admitted.
But Busch was able to overcome his early misfortune, as well as his history at Talladega Superspeedway. Coming into Sunday’s race, Busch had failed to finish four of his six career Cup races at the track.
“Considering what’s happened to us here in the past, today means a whole lot,” Busch said.
Nearly half the field held the lead at some point in the race, with 20 drivers making their way to the front for at least one lap. Stewart led on seven occasions for a total of 61 laps, and Earnhardt had the lead 12 times for 46 laps.
“For sure, it was the best race we’ve had this year,” said Hamlin, who led nine times for a total of 37 laps. “Daytona was good, too. But I thought the racing here was really good. There were a lot of exchanges for the lead. It was really fun."
“The track has a lot of grip, the tires have good grip. The cars were just so stable, you could push a guy through the corner and he could still maintain control. That’s why you saw the racing as tight as it was. Even when the cars made contact, they were able to save it because there was just so much excess grip out there. I think this package is right where it needs to be as far as superspeedway racing goes.”