NASCAR Sprint Cup: Kurt Busch holds off Jimmie Johnson to win STP 500

Kurt Busch was not seeking redemption, just a victory.

He found both in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch, 35, who has been involved in a number of controversies on and off the track during his career, found his way back to a top-level organization this season and didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the opportunity.

On a track where he has rarely found success, Busch outdueled one of its masters in six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to earn his first victory of the season, second at the track and 25th of his series career.

The victory also snapped an 83-race winless streak that dated to October 2011, when he still competed with Penske Racing.

“This is an unbelievable feeling, to get back to Victory Lane after this tour that I’ve been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing, and to win – it means the world to me,” Busch said.

“That’s what I’ve always driven for was just going for the ‘Ws’ and you let the rough edges drag on the other side. You get compared to guys that are sponsor dreams and they’ve won one or two races.

“Now I have 25 wins, a championship and (can) hoist a trophy at a track that I would draw a line through every time I’d show up because it was one of my worst.”

Busch’s other victory at Martinsville came during 2002, and he hadn’t finished among the top 10 there since 2005, a span of 17 races at the track.

Busch spent the past two seasons rebuilding his career with two fledgling organizations – Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing – after he was released from Penske at the end of 2011.

He hadn’t won during that span but had run competitively with teams that had not near the resources of organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing.

Gene Haas, co-owner of SHR, decided during the offseason to start a fourth team and tapped Busch as its driver, providing perhaps a final chance for Busch to compete on the same level with the sport’s best drivers.

“It’s been a process,” Busch said. “It was a challenge to work with those Furniture Row guys. I thought we were knocking on the door about the 10th race in last year, and we couldn’t win. It’s amazing how many things have to fall into place.

“I never doubted myself. I never gave up. I kept trying to find little stones to uncover and rocks to overturn to try to make teams better. It’s great to win six races in with a brand new team like this and have that feeling of a competitive organization around you.”

Clint Bowyer took the lead on Lap 450 of 500 and appeared to have a good chance at earning the win when a caution was displayed on Lap 460 after Carl Edwards spun.

Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing team had a sub-par pit stop, and Johnson came off pit road first and re-assumed the lead. Busch was third.

Busch quickly moved into second and over the final 28 laps, he and Johnson traded the lead three times before Busch took the checkered flag.

Johnson led a race-high 296 laps but said he didn’t feel like he let a win slip away.

“I couldn’t have done any more. I just got beat,” Johnson said. “You’re going to have those days, and you’ve got to recognize when you get beat and you’ve got to recognize when you make mistakes.

“Today we just got beat.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third and took over the series points lead. Joey Logano was fourth and Marcos Ambrose ended up fifth.

Busch nearly didn’t have the chance to compete for the victory. During pit stops on Lap 43, he ran into Brad Keselowski on pit road in an incident in which Kasey Kahne also was involved.

Although Busch attributed the incident to the tight quarters of Martinsville’s pit road, Keselowski was incensed. After making repairs to his car in the garage, Keselowski returned to the track and bumped into Busch’s car several times in retaliation.

Kahne “was trying to pull into his box, Brad ran into the back of him, I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbers our left-side door,” Busch said. “It was like, ‘OK, accidents happen on pit road.’

“Then once we were back out running, he targeted us, he was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires. He will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”

STP 500 results

Fin St Driver Car Lap Pts
1 22 Kurt Busch Chevy 500 47
2 4 Jimmie Johnson Chevy 500 44
3 26 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevy 500 42
4 3 Joey Logano Ford 500 41
5 17 Marcos Ambrose Ford 500 40
6 6 Matt Kenseth Toyota 500 39
7 18 Kevin Harvick Chevy 500 38
8 20 Aric Almirola Ford 500 36
9 12 Clint Bowyer Toyota 500 36
10 21 Paul Menard Chevy 500 34
11 15 AJ Allmendinger Chevy 500 34
12 5 Jeff Gordon Chevy 500 32
13 8 Carl Edwards Ford 500 31
14 1 Kyle Busch Toyota 500 31
15 34 Austin Dillon Chevy 500 29
16 13 Brian Vickers Toyota 500 28
17 7 Tony Stewart Chevy 500 27
18 11 Greg Biffle Ford 500 27
19 2 Denny Hamlin Toyota 500 25
20 16 Ryan Newman Chevy 500 24
21 31 Martin Truex Jr. Chevy 500 23
22 27 Kasey Kahne Chevy 500 22
23 25 Justin Allgaier Chevy 500 21
24 23 Casey Mears Chevy 500 20
25 36 Landon Cassill Chevy 500 0
26 39 David Gilliland Ford 499 18
27 28 Kyle Larson Chevy 498 17
28 24 David Ragan Ford 497 16
29 35 Cole Whitt Toyota 497 15
30 38 Ryan Truex Toyota 496 14
31 40 Michael Annett Chevy 495 13
32 10 Danica Patrick Chevy 494 12
33 29 Travis Kvapil Ford 493 12
34 42 Reed Sorenson Chevy 492 10
35 33 Josh Wise Chevy 492 9
36 19 Alex Bowman Toyota 488 8
37 32 M. McDowell-x Ford 474 7
38 14 Brad Keselowski Ford 469 6
39 37 David Stremme Chevy 440 5
40 30 R. Stenhouse Jr. Ford 409 4
41 41 Parker Kligerman Toyota 408 3
42 9 Jamie McMurray Chevy 396 2
43 43 Joe Nemechek-y Toyota 310 0

Reason out: x-brakes, y-accident.

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