RICHMOND: Suspended by NASCAR for three races earlier this season amid domestic abuse allegations, Kurt Busch has risen to contender status for the Sprint Cup Series title. Busch put himself into position to make the Chase by winning the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday (Monday in Manila) at the Richmond International Raceway.
Busch won in dominant fashion, leading a career-high 291 of the final 306 laps. He was rarely challenged during those final 300-plus laps, easily pulling away from Stewart-Haas teammate Kevin Harvick on three restarts during an 18-lap span beginning on lap 350, and beating him to the checkered flag by nearly a second.
“It’s an incredible feeling, I mean it’s a total team effort,” Busch said. “The way that everything came together it seemed like we were building and building towards a great finish like this.”
Following Busch and Harvick in the top five were fellow Chevrolet drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, and pole-winner and Ford driver Joey Logano.
Logano led the first 94 laps before Busch, who started third, passed him off of Turn 2 to move to the point and in control of the race.
From lap 95 on, only one other driver (Brad Keselowski) led for as much as eight laps. McMurray, with his best run since his non-points All-Star win last May, passed Busch twice, once for a lap and another time for three laps, but never seriously challenged for the victory.
Harvick never made a head-to-head bid to pass Busch, either. Busch made it look so easy that one of the few interesting developments in a second consecutive action-challenged Cup race at RIR was 19-year-old Chase Elliott’s 16th-place finish in his second Cup start.
“I thought we had a fast car, especially in race trim,” said Elliott, the defending Xfinity Series champion who started 20th and briefly ran in the top 10.
Busch was the king on the long runs, leading for stretches of 35 laps, 34, 93, 80 and then 47 to finish off his first win since Martinsville 13 months ago. He has led 520 laps since his return, after leading just 687 the previous three seasons.
The victory means Busch needs only to finish in the top 30 of the regular-season standings to make the Chase, something that is all but a given. Despite missing the three races to start the season he is 18th in the standings, with an average finish of eighth.
Busch was suspended by NASCAR on February 20, two days before the Daytona 500, when a Delaware Court Commissioner issued a no-contact order against him for an alleged domestic abuse incident with his ex-girlfriend.