Furniture Row Racing driver finished ninth, tangled with Stewart, Kenseth, Truex Jr.
RICHMOND, Va. -- It might've been the most highlight-reel worthy ninth-place finish in recent memory. There were laps led, dented sheet metal and post-race exchanges of both words and fender bumps.
But through it all, Kurt Busch soldiered on with a smile, thrilled to have contended for victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway and encouraged by a solid top-10 finish in the Toyota Owners 400.
"We were there tonight," Busch said. "I feel like we were close, a top-five car that was in the mix. That's what you hope for when you show up at a track each week."
"We were right there, knocking on the door. It's all you could ask for."
-- Kurt Busch
Less elated were Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. -- three drivers who tangled with Busch in the final 60 laps. The Stewart and Kenseth conflicts were the result of a chaotic green-white-checkered restart that scrambled the finishing order and produced a come-from-behind winner in Kevin Harvick; the issue with Truex came after a close-quarters battle for second place with the laps ticking off the scoreboard.
Busch led 36 of 406 laps and was running third until the last of the race's 11 caution flags flew, costing Juan Pablo Montoya a likely victory and Busch a potential podium finish. Busch, like Montoya, pitted for new tires and lined up for the restart in 10th with the field knotted up behind three drivers who stayed out on older tires.
When the green flag flew again, Busch's No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet was one of many pinballs ricocheting around the .75-mile track for the final two-lap stretch. He came into contact with Stewart and Kenseth separately before the checkered flag fell, then made significant contact with both on the cool-down lap.
For Busch, the bumping and banging was nothing personal, just the result of a restart that was bound to turn volatile.
"I have no idea. It was a free-for-all there at the end," Busch said. "I mean, everybody's slamming everybody. I'm getting hit from behind. I got shoved out of the way, too. … You could just tell -- green-white-checkered, everybody's going to put on tires, some guys are going to do two, some guys stayed out … it's just a free-for-all. There's rubber built up in the outside groove, there's cars sliding up with old tires, so I don't know what the 14 (Stewart) was upset about. I got hit from behind. I got hit every which way, so did he. Kenseth moved us up out of the way at the end, so that's why I was upset with him, but hey, we got a top-10.
"But the biggest thing is, 10 laps to go and this car didn't have a scratch on it. Now it's destroyed."
Part of the destruction was meted out by Stewart after the checkers. Both pulled into the garage area and parked at their haulers, which as luck would have it, were parked beside each other.
"You got hit from behind. That's fair," Stewart told Busch before leaving the track without speaking to reporters.
Kenseth's beef with Busch also stemmed from the two-lap shootout at the end, including the extracurricular bumps Busch dished to the rear of his No. 20 Toyota after the final lap.
"It's hard to say with Kurt. He probably had one of his Kurt moments," Kenseth said. "But I wasn't happy with him, either. We took off on the restart two-wide going down into (Turn 1), and he drove in there just wide open between me and somebody else and knocked the whole side off my car. I mean, there was nowhere to go. Everybody was stopped, and we were side-by-side. So I just barely moved him out of the way the last corner to pass him for position, just barely. And because I was unhappy he ran into me down there and wrecked my whole race car. … Just destroyed my car after the race. I think it's a good thing he didn't come down here, because my boys who have to fix it aren't too happy."
And then there was Truex, nudged from second position entering Turn 3 with 60 laps to go to bring out the race's 10th caution. Each driver had different points of view of their contest for position.
"Truex came down really early on the straightaway," Busch said. "I was really surprised by him. We had position on the inside and he turned down really early to get into Turn 3. I was disappointed in how it turned out. He put himself in position to spin out."
Said Truex, who rallied to finish 17th: "I'll remember if we get in that position again what I'll do to Kurt … He just had us in a bad position and wouldn't let off the gas. I was going to give him the inside -- I had given him the whole inside the lap before that. I ran him hard, I ran him tight, but I gave him plenty of room. He didn't need to do that. He was driving in over his head trying to get a win, I guess."
A win would have been an overwhelming joy for Busch and the Barney Visser-owned team, which has dealt with adversity but shown a dramatic uptick in performance if not results. Driving over his head? Maybe not for a driver of the 2004 Sprint Cup champion's caliber or for a car as solid as the No. 78 on a night where it consistently ran in the top five.
The Richmond finish left the team 23rd in the car owner points, a deficit that -- nine races in -- has Busch already focusing on wins to bolster hopes for one of two Wild Cards in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. Saturday night, he came ever closer to returning to Victory Lane for the first time since Oct. 2, 2011 at Dover.
"It was bittersweet," Busch said. "We were right there, knocking on the door. It's all you could ask for."
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