Busch denies Stewart fifth win at WGI

Chris Gill

Kyle Busch has done some amazing things this season, but nothing trumps his performance at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.

Starting from pole position, Busch led 52 laps and beat four-time Glen winner Tony Stewart by more than two seconds after a five-lap dash to win the Centurion Boats at The Glen. However, that hardly covers what Busch accomplished.

He also set a NASCAR record with three road racing victories in the same season; clinched a the No. 1 seed in the Chase for the Championship with four races left before the playoffs; won for the eighth time this season (more to this point than Jeff Gordon when he won a record-tying 13 races in 1998); and etched his place in Watkins Glen’s 60-year history.

After contending for the win in Saturday’s Zippo 200 and winning Sunday, Busch didn’t act spoiled by this season’s riches.

“It was a great day yesterday and an excellent day today, to win on road courses and to run up front on road courses and to be a force to be reckoned with means a lot,” he said.

The biggest compliment came from Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Stewart, who Friday was inducted into the Legends of The Glen as part of the inaugural class.

“He never made a mistake. He had a really, really good car today, and he was fast in all the right spots he needed to be fast in,” Stewart said. “You know, I think he ran a perfect race today. I thought we were really close. I mean, we're talking nitpicking stuff to get our car perfect.”

Marcos Ambrose finished third to cap off a dream weekend at The Glen. In only his third Sprint Cup Series start, the Australian moved from dead last in the field to a straight-up podium finish, while holding off Juan Pablo Montoya who placed fourth. New Jersey’s Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.

The race was off to a break-neck pace through the first 78 laps with only two debris cautions for cars dragging piles of gravel back onto the course. During that stretch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 33 laps, pulling out a lead of 2.4 seconds over teammate Jimmie Johnson, before pit stops jumbled the field. While running third, Ryan Newman unwittingly sparked the most violent multi-car crash in almost 20 years. Newman overshot Turn 1 and backed out onto the course, bringing out a caution flag. With the field bunched up, and every position critical with less than 20 to go, the predictable happened.

However, no one could have imagined the ferocity the crash.

Rookie Michael McDowell and David Gilliland were fighting for position entering Turn 11 when McDowell popped Gilliland, sending the Yates Racing driver nose first into the tire barrier. Gilliland’s spinning car wandered into the path of Bobby Labonte, who piled into the wreck and collected seven other cars – including Sam Hornish, who skidded into the pit wall safety barrier in an explosion of sand, plastic and metal. The ensuing red flag took almost 45 minutes to clean up.

All the drivers were released from the infield care center, sans Labonte, who was transported to an unnamed hospital and released without injury, according to NASCAR.

“I had a run and I went underneath him and he just didn’t give me a whole lot of room,” McDowell said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been in there, but we’re racing hard to stay in the top 35 in owner points and try to get back into the top 35.”

The racers who weren’t in the crash sat in their cars for 43:05 minutes, wondering how the heat cycle would impact their tires, if they could regain rhythm and even if their cars would start.

“There’s just so many thoughts to go through your mind and what you can try to visualize in your mind and see what you can do if it does happen,” Busch said. “Fortunately it was the easy way, and we were able to just get a good restart and get a good launch and pull away from there.”

On the final restart of the race with five laps to go, Busch launched away from Stewart and was never challenged again.

Suddenly, Busch has topped the likes of Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and a host of “ringers” as the man to beat on the road courses. In fact, he’ll get to test a Toyota Formula One car in November. His crew chief, Steve Addington, isn’t sure that Busch would fare well in F1, but not for lack of talent.

“From what I’m told from Scott Speed and Juan Pablo and some of the other guys that have run those type of cars, the engineers and everybody, that sort of set it up and they sort of drive it for you,” Busch said. “They tell you where to brake, they tell you how fast to go through that corner and stuff, and you're just the dummy and they're going the motions.”

Addington chimed in, “That’s not gonna work.”

“If they tell me to go wide open through one corner then I'd better hope it sticks because I'm going to do it,” Busch said.

Spoken like a true racer.

Corning Leader