Kyle Busch roars to first 2015 win in Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma – NBCSports.com

Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2015

While a long road still remains ahead of him, Kyle Busch is now halfway to making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Starting seventh on the final restart, Busch roared forward to pass Jimmie Johnson with five laps remaining to earn his first win of the 2015 season in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

It was Busch’s fourth career Sprint Cup road course win. He started the 110-lap race from the 11th position. It was also Adam Stevens’ first carer win as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

For the first time in NASCAR history, Kyle and older brother Kurt finished 1-2, followed by Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr.

How Kyle Busch can still make the Chase for the Sprint Cup: Busch, who missed the first 11 races of the season recuperating from a broken right leg and fractured left foot suffered during a wreck at Daytona in February, was given a medical waiver by NASCAR upon his return to racing last month to remain Chase-eligible. The waiver contained stipulations that Busch win at least one race and finish in the top 30 in the point standings after the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond in early September. Busch, who is now the 11th different winner this season with 10 more races prior to the  Chase, still must reach the top 30. Busch is now 136 points out of 30th place (Cole Whitt). Busch still feels he can reach the Top 30 by Richmond and make the Chase: “Yeah we have our work cut out for us. We knew we did in the beginning and I definitely put us in a hole a couple times this year. … They deserve to be in the Chase. As much as I can do, that’s what we’re going to do.”

How Kyle Busch won: Busch methodically worked his way forward from seventh-place on the final restart, seven laps from the finish. Fresh tires for Busch was a big key, as Jimmie Johnson and the other top-five drivers at the time stayed out on the last caution on old tires, hoping to preserve his lead. But Busch passed each driver on old rubber one-by-one until he passed Johnson for good two laps later on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn track. “If we came back tomorrow, we’d still run the same strategy,” Johnson said. “We played it perfectly. We were one caution away from it working out just right.”

Who else had a good day: Clint Bowyer was in the mix to win for the second time in the last four races at Sonoma, but wasn’t able to catch Kyle or Kurt Busch at the end, ultimately finishing third. It was the first top-five finish for Bowyer this season, and the first top-five for Michael Waltrip Racing. “Damn it, you get so close. I drove my ass off. I just came up a little short,” Bowyer said. … Although road courses aren’t his forte, points leader Kevin Harvick rallied to finish fourth. … Tony Stewart looked strong all race, but faded in the closing laps to finish 12th. Still, it was Stewart’s second-best finish of the season. … Sam Hornish Jr. had his second-best finish of the season (10th).

Who had a bad day: Pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger’s bid for victory ended just past the halfway point when he took his car to the garage for a likely fuel pressure problem. After repairs, Allmendinger returned to the race on Lap 74, 12 laps down. … Martin Truex Jr. suffered his worst finish of the season (42nd) when he was hooked by David Ragan and into a tire wall on Lap 28. … David Gilliland was the first driver out of the race, having hit hard head-on into a tire wall on Lap 22, possibly when a left-side tire went down on his car. Gilliland finished 43rd. … JJ Yeley lost his car in the sand on Turn 10, spun and made heavy contact with the wall on Lap 72. … Defending race winner Carl Edwards lost his bid to repeat when he and David Ragan tangled while battling for sixth place in the esses on Lap 79. Both cars were heavily damaged and unable to continue.

Notable: Kyle Busch burned up the tires on his winning race car during the post-race burnout, to the point where he couldn’t drive it into Victory Lane. So, he wound up walking there for the post-race celebration. “The thing wouldn’t make the turn, I blew the rear tires off it,” Busch said. “So I said, ‘Alright, park it right here and we’ll walk right in.’ Walking in on a broken leg and broken foot, nothing better than that.” … 27 drivers finished on the lead lap, with another seven one lap down. … There were five caution periods for 21 laps. … Jimmie Johnson led the most laps (45), while runner-up Kurt Busch led the second-most (43). Race-winner Kyle Busch led just 12 laps in the 110-lap event. … Casey Mears lost a tire and part of the rear axle on his car on Lap 99, ending what had been a strong day for him. Mears ultimately finished 38th. … In an oddity, Matt DiBenedetto was accidentally spun by a track safety vehicle while trying to get to his stall on pit road.

Quote of the day: “It was a great weekend. Nothing’s going to take away from this weekend for me. I know it wasn’t the finish we wanted, but it was still a very memorable weekend.” — In his 23rd and final visit to his original home track of Sonoma Raceway, Jeff Gordon finished 16th. Gordon remains winless in 2015.

What’s next: The Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona International Speedway for a rare Sunday night race on July 5 for the Coke Zero 400 (7:45 pm ET). NBC Sports begins its 20-race share of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule that night, as well.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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