SONOMA, Calif. - Kyle Busch was not looking on the bright side after practicing his Sprint Cup car Friday on the road course at Infineon Raceway.
"I thought it was going to be a dismal weekend," Busch said after Sunday's Toyota Save Mart 350. "I was trying to figure out what tire barrier we were going to put the car into."
Busch wound up with another destination, however, taking his No. 18 Toyota to victory lane with the kind of performance that's come to mark a season in which he's emerged as NASCAR's top dog.
"It was a great day considering where we thought we were going to be," said Busch, who earned his fifth Cup victory and padded his lead in the points standings back to 103 points two weeks after he'd finished dead last at Pocono.
He wound up 13th last week at Michigan, and considering he'd finished in the top three six times in the previous seven races - three of them wins - that constituted a dry spell.
"I guess when you get into a slump of two weeks, it's not that bad," Busch joked after his ninth career victory but his first in the Cup Series on a road course.
He snapped it by coming from the 30th starting spot, working his way up to the top 15 on the run to the first pit stop.
"I felt like that was pretty sporty," Busch said.
From that point the cautions fell right for his two pit stops. He was second for the restart after the first caution and took the lead almost immediately when Greg Biffle went off course. He dominated after that, leading 78 laps, including the final 42 through a spate of late cautions including one that extended the race two extra laps to 112 in a green-white-checkered finish.
"It means a lot to put my name on that list," Busch said, referring to the relatively short list of drivers who've won Cup races on road courses. Only six drivers entered here Sunday had done that.
"In the beginning I was lost (on road courses). I give credit to testing with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) when I was at Hendrick (Motorsports). Then you follow guys like Boris Said and Robby Gordon on the track. I just sort of picked up on it."
Busch won on the road course at Mexico City in the Nationwide Series earlier this year.
"Today we were just in the fight position and the right time," he said. "It feels special."
It was a special day, too, for runner-up David Gilliland. The California native, marking the second anniversary of his first career Cup start, got his career-best finish.
Jeff Gordon, the all-time Cup leader with nine road course wins, rallied from early race woes to finish third and then gave Busch grudging praise.
"I am really impressed with Kyle," Gordon said. "I was around him some today and I don't think he's a very good racer. I was really bad at the beginning of the race and he went by me, and I didn't think he was that much better. He was almost out of control.
"If you can keep the car on the track all day, you get credit from me and I wouldn't have bet on him doing that today. He's maturing and learning, and that's what it will take for him.
"If he can win here it will boost his confidence. He'll think he can win anywhere - and he might be able to."
Gilliland and Gordon moved up to the second and third spots, respectively, by avoiding an incident on Lap 105 that saw Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick - all battling for potential top-five finishes - wind up in what looked like a synchronized spin. It started when Harvick got into the side of McMurray's Ford, pushing that car into Stewart's.
"I just got run into the back of," Stewart said. "I guess the 29 car (Harvick) wheel-hopped or, I don't know, just drove over his head."