Kyle Busch holds the trophy after winning the Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway Sunday in Sonoma, Calif.AP PHOTO
SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Busch snapped the slump that plagued him the past two weeks, racing to his first Sprint Cup Series win on a road course Sunday at Infineon Raceway.
Busch, who had a poor qualifying run and started 30th, steadily moved through the field and grabbed the lead away from defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya on an early restart. Nobody came close to taking the lead from him the rest of the way, but he did have to hold off a pair of challenges on two late restarts.
It was Busch’s series-best fifth win of the season, and 11th overall spanning all three of NASCAR’s top series. It also was his second road course victory of the season, following a Nationwide Series win in Mexico City in April.
Busch celebrated with his traditional smoky burnout, then climbed from his car for his customary bow to the crowd. For once, the fans were cheering the driver they so famously love to hate.
“I am really impressed with Kyle,” said third-place finisher Jeff Gordon, his former teammate. “I’ve been around him, and I didn’t think he’s a really good road racer. So I think you’ve got to give that guy a lot of credit for his talent. To be able to get their car up front and maintain the position ... I would not have bet on that.
“Obviously, he’s maturing and learning and that’s what it’s going to take for him to maintain that points lead.”
David Gilliland finished a career-best second and was followed by Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears. Montoya was sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.
The race was fairly clean until the closing laps.
David Reuitmann brought out a late caution when a flat tire caused him to run off course and into a wall of tires. That set up a restart with six laps to go, and Tony Stewart quickly passed Jamie McMurray for second. But a spin by Kevin Harvick as they entered Turn 4 started a chain-reaction crash that took Stewart out of contention for challenging his teammate for the win.
“I haven’t seen it, so it’s not fair to comment on that,” Stewart said.
It set up a final restart with three laps to go and Gilliland and Gordon lined up behind Busch. He pulled out to another insurmountable lead, but a wreck between Scott Pruett and Denny Hamlin brought out a red-flag so NASCAR could clean the track. The stoppage lasted 12 minutes, forcing Busch to sit idle and think about the impending three-lap sprint to the finish.
Busch once again moved out to a large lead, and the only real races for position were back in the pack. Montoya jockeyed for position with Mears and Elliott Sadler, while Kenseth, Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. mounted their own battle.
Montoya moved through the field early and took the lead until Busch grabbed it from him. But Montoya was spun by Marcos Ambrose while running second, and the contact dropped the Colombian to 14th.
Ambrose was later spun by Sadler, and the contact came as he was shifting — causing him to break his gearbox. Ambrose, who was running fifth in his Sprint Cup Series debut, wound up 42nd.
For Busch, it was the remedy he needed after a frustrating two weeks. He won earlier this month at Dover, then embarked on his historic “triple” of three races at three different tracks in three days.
Although he finished second in the Truck Series race, the first leg of his journey, he wrecked his Cup car in practice the next day before jetting off to the Nationwide Series race. He wrecked in that event and finished 32nd, then wrecked in the Cup race and finished 43rd.
He wrecked in last week’s Nationwide race, as well, and decided after not to hop all over the country this weekend to compete in the lower series’ events in Milwaukee.