All afternoon long, the only thing that could bring Kurt Busch back to the pack was a caution flag.
Busch earned his first win of the 2015 season Sunday, overcoming a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to complete a dominant showing at Richmond's Toyota Owners 400. The No. 41 car led 291 of the 400 laps, Busch extending his lead to multiple seconds at times and never really facing much resistance.
Harvick was the next-closest driver, finishing nearly a full second behind the leader. Harvick and Busch clearly had the two best cars following the final restart, with both finishing about three seconds ahead of the secondary pack.
The spring Richmond race was held Sunday after being postponed Saturday due to rain. It's the second race in as many weeks to run into inclement weather.
As it was for Matt Kenseth a week ago, the rain wound up being a blessing in disguise for Busch. Starting the race third, Busch took the lead for the first time on Lap 95 and proceeded to control the race the rest of the way.
Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Harvick and Joey Logano were the only other drivers to lead so much as a lap. Logano, who led the first 94 laps after starting on the pole, was the only other person to lead for double-digit laps.
|Toyota Owners 400 Leaderboard - Top 10|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||0|
"It's a great feeling. We've just been building and building toward this. When you're accused of something, and things go sideways, your personal life doesn't have to affect your business life," Busch said, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today.
Busch missed the 2015 season's first three races after being accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend. NASCAR later reinstated him after prosecutors declined to file formal charges. The Stewart-Haas Racing star has finished no worse than 15th since his return to the track, earning three top-five finishes. His victory was his first since the 2014 spring race at Bristol, a run of 35 races.
Despite missing three races, Busch will be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup under the terms of his reinstatement.
Jimmie Johnson, McMurray and Logano rounded out the top five. McMurray has finished inside the top five in three of his last four races at Richmond. The No. 1 car has been increasingly getting into a groove after a rough start, finishing outside the top 20 just once since his season nadir at Atlanta.
|Sprint Cup Standings|
|8||Martin Truex Jr.||0||315|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||0||271|
Among the notables not in the top five, Chase Elliott's second career Sprint Cup race went far better than the first. The heir apparent to Jeff Gordon stayed largely out of harm en route to a 16th-place finish, which should get the poor taste out of his mouth left over from Martinsville. On Friday, Elliott earned a fifth-place outing in the Xfinity Series race at Richmond.
Gordon, racing in his final full-time season, finished eighth. Though he is yet to earn an automatic Chase berth, Gordon has six straight top 10s. It appears only a matter of time before he gets over the hump and into Victory Lane.
The day was much more involved for fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who battled his way to a 14th-place day. Earnhardt was involved in an incident with Tony Stewart on Lap 362, sending the No. 14 car into the wall. Stewart wound up in 41st, 41 laps off the pace.
The pair seems to be in disagreement about who was at fault in the incident, per Gluck:
Overall, there were eight cautions totaling 53 laps, including a competition caution at Lap 50. There were just 19 cars on the lead lap by the end of the race.
Next week, the Sprint Cup makes a trip to the legendary Talladega Superspeedway. Denny Hamlin won the spring race at the restrictor-plate track last season, but it's always hard to tell who will be out ahead. Perhaps the only thing we know is that Earnhardt and Stewart are unlikely to be seeking out one another to be drafting partners.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.