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Kyle Busch Completes Sweep at Richmond
The result was a record-tying 15 cautions. None of the wrecks caused serious damage to cars or drivers -- just some dented sheet metal and a few hard feelings.
With the track too damp for full-speed racing at the outset, NASCAR officials started the event under a green-and-yellow flag, which meant that racecars paraded around the oval double-file, barred from passing, in an effort to help dry the track.
After six noncompetitive laps, the pace car pulled onto pit road, setting up the full-throttle fury fans had paid to see. The cars roared to life, and fans erupted in cheers.
Gordon grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Brian Vickers on the first lap and dominated the early going.
Still, given the conditions, it took awhile for drivers to feel comfortable enough to race in close quarters. But once the exhaust fumes from 43 racecar engines fully dried the racing surface, drivers got bolder, and things got interesting.
Hamlin moved his Toyota into the lead on Lap 73, with the Busch brothers (Kyle and Kurt) in close pursuit.
It was a calamitous race for three-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who was penalized for exceeding the speed limit during a pit stop, developed a brake problem and spun out just before the halfway point and was penalized again for pitting out of sequence. He finished 36th.
Burton got knocked into the wall by contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 211. It was the first time Earnhardt Jr., a three-time winner at Richmond, had done anything worth commenting on. He was never a factor and finished 27th.
At that point Hamlin was in command, fending off one challenger after another. He was due for a strong showing after last year's bitter disappointment, when he led 381 of the first 382 laps at Richmond only to blow a tire with less than 20 laps to go.
But Saturday night, his hopes were crushed by a gaffe in the pits with about 100 laps remaining. He entered the pits as the leader but exited sixth after a loose lug nut fell from his right-front tire, costing precious seconds.
Gordon, battled an ill-handling car, opted not to pit for tires when the other front-runners did on Lap 308, gambling that rain would soon halt the action. The gamble vaulted him to the lead but he couldn't maintain it, his grip fading as the race ground on.
Busch finally whipped around him on the high side to retake the lead a final time with 48 laps to go.