Then came the finish, which he described as a free-for-all, and with him right in the middle of it.
The one-time champion now racing for a one-car team wound up ninth Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. He also ended the race mad at Matt Kenseth for moving him out of the way in the two-lap sprint to the finish, and then had a door-slamming battle with ticked off Tony Stewart on pit road.
"I have no idea," Busch said afterward when asked what he'd done to make Stewart so angry. "I mean, it was a free-for-all at the end. Everybody's slamming everybody, I'm getting hit from behind. You know, we got shoved out of the way too."
Stewart didn't stick around to talk after the race. He climbed from his car, rebuked media that immediately surrounded him seeking comment and walked out of the track to a waiting golf cart.
And Stewart, a three-time champion, wasn't the only one fuming at Busch.
Martin Truex Jr. was running second when Busch spun him out on the backstretch. Truex wound up 17th.
"He put himself in position to spin out," Busch said, claiming that Truex came down on his car.
Trues didn't agree, and said he wouldn't forget.
"We fought the car all night long and finally got some track position back—we fought really hard for that," Truex said of his sudden appearance up front. "It's a shame to get to where we were there and get spun.
The mayhem at the end had to be expected, Busch said.
"You could just tell, I mean, green-white-checker, everyone's going to put on tires, some guys are going to do two, some guys stayed out," Busch said. "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 (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. That's why I was upset with him. But hey, everybody's free-for-all. We got a top 10. But the biggest thing is, with 10 laps to go, this car didn't have a scratch on it. Now it's destroyed."
For much of the night, Busch looked like one of the cars to beat. He led 36 laps and was second to Juan Pablo Montoya on a late restart with a seemingly stronger car. But Montoya broke away initially, and as Busch closed the gap, race winner Kevin Harvick came storming through the field to also contend.
The final caution came with four laps to go, setting up the two-lap finish, and Busch and most of the contenders pitted for tires. Five cars stayed out, including Stewart, who had not been a factor all night, and when the green flag flew, the cars on newer tires made quick work of the ones that stayed out.
That's where Busch and Stewart came together, with Busch nudging Stewart out of the second racing groove, leaving him to watch as car after car drove by as he dropped from fifth on the restart to an 18th-place finish. It's also where Kenseth nudged Busch from behind, allowing Kenseth, the pole-sitter, to rally to finish seventh, two spots ahead of Busch.
"(Busch) drove up through there and knocked my whole side off and put me in the marbles," Kenseth said. "Just two laps, everybody's going to go for it and go for every hole they've got. That's the best I could do."
On pit road, Stewart and Busch were door to door, banging, before Stewart pulled into the garage and stormed away.
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