RICHMOND, Va. -- It was a "Saturday Night at the Short Track" for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400. That meant plenty of fender-banging, temper-flaring, hard-racing action around Richmond International Raceway.
But in the end, the top four drivers made it to the finish by racing slow enough to finish -- rather than hard enough to win -- as they conserved fuel to ensure they made it to the finish.
1. Kyle Busch was good to the last drop. Busch's 21st Sprint Cup win, two days before his 26th birthday, came from conservation. In fact, crew chief Dave Rogers estimated that Busch's Toyota should have run out of fuel with three laps to go. Busch blasted by race-leader Jeff Burton with 84 laps left and ran the final 107 laps on one tank. Busch, who led 235 laps overall, ran out of fuel after his celebratory burnout on the frontstretch.
"It doesn't matter what you need past the checkered flag, but we made it to the checkered flag so that was awesome," Busch said. "This race tonight was a good one. We had a really good car. I knew that if we could get through traffic better than the 11 (teammate Denny Hamlin). I learned from Denny what we had to do. I'm not going to say what that is, though."
Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top two as Hamlin finished second, attempting to recover from a very poor start to the season.
"It was very important to have a smooth, race, nothing go wrong -- we just got beat by our teammate today," Hamlin said. "He drove a great race. I thought he was going to burn his stuff up when he wanted to go he was able to do it. This is what we needed to get back on track and try to get back into the top 10. We knew early on the 18 (Busch) was going to be tough to beat. But that's all we had.
"Maybe it has taken us a few extra races to get ready this year."
Busch joins Kevin Harvick as multiple winners this year after driving to victory at Bristol in March.
"I asked him, 'Did you save fuel?'" team president J.D. Gibbs said. "Kyle responded, 'I did what I had to do to win.'"
2. Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya cross paths -- again. Perhaps NASCAR's longest-running feud is between Newman and Montoya. It dates to Montoya's first Cup race at in 2006 when Newman drove him into the wall at Homestead-Miami. They have had flare-ups since, but the most recent came on lap 238 when Newman was tagged by Montoya's Chevrolet. Earlier on lap 107, Montoya was hit by Newman -- who was convinced the second crash was "payback."
"I'll take care of it after the race," Newman vowed over team radio.
Words like that are a dream to any fight promoter, but after the race prospects of a confrontation were greatly exaggerated. While Newman marched off to speak with NASCAR officials, Montoya fled into the nighttime darkness on a golf cart to the driver motor-home lot -- presumably a safe haven for the man who started on the pole.
"I'm just heading to the NASCAR hauler to see how this situation is going to be handled," Newman said. "To retaliate the way he did just didn't show much class."
When told of their history dating to 2006, Newman said, "I don't know if he (Montoya) could even remember back that far."
This could have been a brawl of international proportions involving Colombia's Montoya and Indiana's Newman.
"I like Montoya, but you can't wreck everyone every time you are in an accident," Hamlin said. "I just don't understand that."
3. Kasey Kahne "kneeded" this one. Since the end of the 2010 season, Kasey Kahne has had three knee surgeries, including his most recent April 18 -- the day after Talladega.
"This was the worst one because I ended up tearing up the meniscus from the original surgery," Kahne said. "That was the most painful because I ended up tearing the stitches and sutures and everything else. It doesn't feel too bad now, but I've had enough surgeries for a while."
Less than two weeks later, Kahne took the lead on lap 44 and was in front for 29 laps before finishing a season-best third place at Richmond.
Contending for victory proved Kahne's best medicine.
"We needed a good run tonight," he said. "I had to miss that wreck -- I got a little lucky there and my knee feels fine. It feels a little bit tight -- a bit swelled up maybe. But I never thought about it once throughout the race.
"If you aren't thinking about it; it's not hurting."
Kahne proved to be quite the gamer, but that's the beauty of sports -- that sometimes drivers are able to put out their best efforts during times of adversity.
4. Jeff Gordon is hardheaded. When Gordon smacked the inside wall in the race's biggest crash on lap 302, he hit driver's-side-first into the concrete retainer -- a part of the track where there was no SAFER barrier.
"Ow -- that hurt," Gordon radioed to his crew. "I find the worst freaking place to hit the wall. I'm done."
Gordon is dumbfounded that since the advent of the SAFER barrier -- an energy-absorbing barrier used to soften the blow from crashes -- that somehow he still finds the part of the wall that isn't protected.
"I don't know what it is," Gordon said. "I'm not trying to teach anybody anything. I really am not. I think it is pretty well known we need SAFER barriers everywhere. You think it is a short track and everything, but man, I hit a ton and hit right on the corner where you don't want to hit. It definitely got my attention. That is for sure. It rang my bell."
When Gordon hit the inside wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2008, it brought attention to parts of race tracks that were still without the SAFER barrier. Many of those tracks dramatically increased areas where the barriers were installed, but there remains places at tracks where it's a bare concrete wall. Look for that to change when NASCAR returns to Richmond in September.
5. Kurt Busch had a meltdown. After getting bounced around like a ping-pong ball throughout the race, Kurt Busch had a meltdown on the team radio after his Dodge received damage in the Montoya-Newman crash. The profanity-laced tirade blared over the team's radio, and it's likely those in the stands and the media that heard it are still shocked.
Maybe it's a good thing that Busch's team owner, Roger Penske, is in Sao Paulo, Brazil, preparing for Sunday's IndyCar race and didn't have to hear the inflammatory remarks. It will be interesting to see the reaction.