It happens every spring.
Just as surely as the azaleas bloom at Augusta National, Kyle Busch celebrates his birthday with a victory at Richmond International Raceway.
That has been the case for three years, at least, after Busch, who will turn 26 Monday, won Saturday night’s Crown Royal Presents 400 at the .75-mile track. The victory was Busch’s second in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series this season and the 21st of his career.
Busch beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin to the finish line by 1.805 seconds as both drivers conserved fuel during an 86-lap green-flag run to the finish. Busch has won the last three spring races at Richmond, with Hamlin winning the last two fall races.
Kasey Kahne finished third, followed by David Ragan and series points leader Carl Edwards. Clint Bowyer, AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart claimed positions 6-9 as the last cars on the lead lap.
Busch, who like Hamlin made it to the finish after pitting for the last time on Lap 293 of 400, ran out of fuel during his postrace burnout.
“We were late to the celebration,” Busch said after his car was pushed to victory lane. “This is pretty awesome. We had a really good car, and we knew that if we could play through traffic a little bit better than the 11 (Hamlin) that we had a shot at the win, and we did that tonight.
“I learned from Denny Hamlin last fall — and I’m not going to say what I learned, but he might know. We did a good job of doing what we needed to do early in the run, and once we got out (in front) and had to go through traffic, the traffic kind of fell our way, so we were able to pick our way through there.”
Hamlin acknowledged helping Busch on the short tracks but said it was a fair exchange for what he had learned from Busch about running intermediate speedways.
“Yeah, I opened my mouth — I never should have told him,” Hamlin said, though he, too, declined to reveal the secret he had shared with his teammate. “That’s the thing. If I don’t tell him the things I know on short tracks, and the crew chiefs don’t relay information, then it’s not a good team.
“We got paid back on the bigger intermediate tracks. I learned so much from him. Yeah, it might cost me a race here or there because he outruns me, but I think, in the grand scheme of things, it makes me an overall better driver.”
After surging to the front of the field during a 107-lap green-flag run to start the race, Busch and Hamlin owned the action — save for a four-lap foray by Jeff Gordon — until Martin Truex Jr. took Busch and Hamlin three-wide to the inside after a restart on Lap 245 and surged to the front on Lap 246.
A bump from Jimmie Johnson sent Joey Logano spinning off Turn 2 on Lap 256. That started a spate of cautions that scrambled the field by virtue of divergent pit strategies. All told, Laps 256-301 brought five cautions, the last of which flew because of a wreck on the backstretch involving Bowyer, Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Paul Menard and David Reutimann.
Gordon retired from the race after his Chevrolet slammed hard into the inside wall.
Busch was fourth and Hamlin fifth for a restart on Lap 315, but Busch charged into the lead around the outside and passed Jeff Burton for the top spot on Lap 317, with Hamlin quickly following into the second position. At that point, both drivers were conserving fuel, but they had enough of a lead over Kahne that they could maintain an even pace without fear of losing their positions on the track.