RICHMOND, Va. – Kyle Busch planned to open the bulk of his birthday presents when he returned home from Richmond International Raceway.
“What do you get a guy who has everything or buys anything he wants?” he wondered.
How about a trip to Victory Lane?
Busch became just the second driver in NASCAR history to win a Cup race on his birthday, celebrating his 24th on Saturday night at Richmond.
“It was a good birthday, for sure,” Busch said. “This is the best present. It’s cool.”
Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to accomplish the feat – twice – celebrating his March 27th birthday with wins at North Wilkesoboro in 1977 and Atlanta in 1983.
“How old was he?” Busch asked, a hint of cockiness in his voice. He then smiled with a slight sense of satisfaction when he learned Yarborough was 38 when he won his first race on his birthday.
The young driver has 50 wins spanning NASCAR’s top three series.
But he had rolled into Richmond on an uncharacteristically long losing streak – his last win was Week 5 at Bristol. He broke the slump in style, though, with three wins on the weekend starting with a victory in teammate Denny Hamlin’s charity race Thursday night at Southside Speedway. He then won Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at RIR.
“It’s an awesome win for us,” said Busch, who celebrated with his trademark sarcastic bow to the booing crowd, then later swan-dived into the arms of his Joe Gibbs Racing crew.
“It’s really exciting to win on my birthday and to have my team guys enjoy it as much as I do. They’re having a good time. We struggled for four weeks. It’s been a struggle for us – we haven’t finished where we want to. We made it happen here.”
For the Cup win, Busch used a quick jump on a late restart to again pass Carl Edwards, then set his sights on leader Jeff Gordon. Busch raced past Gordon on the next lap, then held on for the Richmond sweep.
Tony Stewart was second, followed by Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin. Gordon wound up eighth, Edwards 26th.
Burton and Martin both recovered from earlier accidents – Burton spun after contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Martin was involved in an accident with Martin Truex Jr.
Newman’s finish moved him up another three spots in the standings to 10th – he’s gained 23 positions the last seven races – and put both Stewart-Haas Racing entries in contention for Chase for the championship berths. Stewart is third.
Stewart is still angling for his first win as owner of his team, but settled for his second runner-up finish in the last three races. Busch credited one final caution-free run for being able to hold off Stewart, who had fresher tires.
“Those guys had to run us down,” Busch said. “We took four tires and then we were going to stay out from then on out. We made the most of the effort. I didn’t think we could do it. I knew we had a good car, not a great car.
“All you have to do is hang around with a good car and let the race fall your way.”
Sam Hornish Jr. was a career-best sixth to continue a three-race upswing. He notched the first top-10 of his career at Phoenix, and he was running inside the top 10 at Talladega last week until he was part of the 10-car accident with 11 laps to go.
Jamie McMurray came back from a mid-race spin to finish seventh and was followed by Gordon, Casey Mears and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Gordon, who lost the points lead to Kurt Busch last week, reclaimed the top spot and now has a 10-point advantage.
For the second consecutive year, Hamlin led the most laps at his home track but fell short of the win. He led 381 of the first 382 laps last spring, only to finish 24th because of a late tire leak.
Hamlin, who grew up in Chesterfield about 20 minutes away from the track, led 148 laps but fell from the front after his crew dropped a pair of lug nuts during a pit stop. Although he recovered to briefly run inside the top five, he faded late and finished 14th.
“We’ve been in contention to win this race every time we’ve been here,” said Mike Ford, Hamlin’s crew chief. “You don’t take anything out of it other than frustration. That’s about it.”