Kentucky Speedway

Kyle Busch rules over Sparta

Kyle Busch celebrated after he  won the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway  on Saturday July 9, 2011 in Sparta, Ky. Photo by  Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kyle Busch celebrated after he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway on Saturday July 9, 2011 in Sparta, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

SPARTA — In the days leading up to the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, one of the biggest concerns among drivers was how they would handle the track's notorious bumps.

As it turned out, navigating the surface wasn't the real problem. Catching Kyle Busch? That was another story.

Two days after taking the Truck Series race, Busch put his name in the record books as the first winner of the Quaker State 400 before a reported sellout crowd at the 1.5-mile Sparta tri-oval.

Busch, who had a powerful car all night and dominated the early action, held off Jimmie Johnson on a restart with two laps to go to earn his third win of the year, 22nd Cup triumph of his career, and 99th overall win in NASCAR.

After coming from the rear of the field during his truck win, Busch showed he could set the pace just as well as he closes.

The 26-year-old started on the pole due to his fastest practice time when qualifying was washed out and his No. 18 M&M's Toyota was never seriously challenged during the many times it was out front.

After older brother Kurt Busch led the initial 31 laps, Kyle Busch made Kentucky's first Cup race his personal showcase, leading 125 laps in a race that featured extended green-flag runs. When David Reutimann edged Johnson at the line for second, it was about as much drama as the race produced all night.

"This is cool man; this is right up there with the best of them," said Busch, who also finished third in Friday's Nationwide race. "I haven't won the big ones yet, so this is as good as it gets right now. The way we ran tonight was awesome.

"We didn't have to make many adjustments. Just fine tuning throughout the weekend. It was really good off the truck. That's where it all started this weekend."

Busch took the lead for the first time on Lap 32, and about the only time he was knocked off the front end was during the handful of pit stops in the 267-lap test.

There were only three cautions through the first 153 laps, one of them a planned caution at Lap 30.

Such long runs showcased the importance of clean air: Whoever was fortunate to get out front was often able to put several car lengths between himself and the field.

And no one did that better than Kyle Busch.

"I was pretty confident we had the car to beat," said Busch, who now holds a four-point edge over Carl Edwards for the points lead. "Whether it would stay the car to beat was the question because of how long this race is and how you change from daytime to nighttime. The track goes through a lot of different changes, but ... we kept up with it. We made it seem easy but it certainly wasn't."

Kyle Busch inherited the lead for the final time on Lap 257 shortly after Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew a left front tire with 14 to go to bring out a caution and was still in front when Clint Bowyer crashed with six laps to go to.

On the subsequent restart, Busch took the high line and briefly faced a side-by-side challenge from Johnson. The five-time defending Cup champion wasn't able to hang with his rival down the straightaways, however, and soon found himself facing an onrushing Reutimann.

"The last restart, the car took off a lot better, and I was able to hang with him down through Turns 1 and 2," Johnson said. "If I could have stayed inside of him, it would have been one heck of a finish at the end. But he cleared me and went on, and then I had my hands full with (Reutimann)."

The second-place run was the best effort of the year for Reutimann. His previous top run was ninth at Charlotte.

"We unfortunately have a bit of history of being fast when it doesn't really matter," Reutimann said. "Tonight worked out where we were fast at the end of the race, which is evidently what you've got to do."

Ryan Newman was fourth with Edwards and teammate Matt Kenseth coming home fifth and sixth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski, who led 79 laps on the night, fell back after taking four tires on his final pit stop to finish seventh with David Ragan, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top 10.

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