Fans watch as cars crash during the Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
This Busch-versus-Edwards thing is getting more than a little testy, and NASCAR’s top two drivers this season went nose-to-nose again here Saturday night…and tempers flared in the final miles, with the two exchanging angry words as well as fender bumps.
Just like it’s been right from the start of the season, it was Toyota’s Busch versus Ford’s Edwards in Saturday night’s Sharpie 500, and everyone else was an also-ran, everyone else was an after-thought.
This time Edwards made it two-straight on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour with a late charge to catch Busch in the final miles.
Busch dominated the 3-1/2 hour race, but Edwards gave him a bump-and-run just after the final restart with 20 miles to go to get the lead, and Edwards pulled away for his seventh win of the year. Only Busch, with eight, has won more.
Just after the race, Busch pulled up alongside Edwards and banged doors to express his displeasure. Edwards quickly responded by bumping Busch and turning him.
NASCAR officials said they would discuss the confrontation.
Carl Edwards wins Bristol from the pole….but it wasn’t quite that easy Saturday night (Photo: NASCAR)
“This won’t be the last time we race each other….and the chase could be exciting,” Edwards said.
Busch was not happy: “He hit me getting into turn one. Carl will say he’s sorry; he always does. We’ll just race him that way in the ‘chase’ if that’s the way he wants to race,” Busch snapped. “He’s done that before.
“I tried to get him back, but I thought better of it. We were as clean as could be…..
“He spun me out. Mr. Ed-like…..
“It was all going fine until the end. We could check out on the long runs.
“Just unfortunate the way things came down at the end.”
“I couldn’t get by him, and couldn’t get by him….and finally I had to ask myself if he would do that to me…and he has before,” Edwards said.
“They talk about rivalries…we might have one now.
“All I could think about was Richmond and the Nationwide race when he was coming up through the field and pile-drived me.
“It’s too bad we tore up the car after the race. But I guess he was mad.”
J.D. Gibbs, Busch’s team owner, briefly confronted Edwards afterwards. “He just said ‘you reap what you sow,’ and I told him that’s exactly why it went that way here,” Edwards said.
Carl Edwards celebrates toward his pit crew after winning the NASCAR 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Busch and Edwards were the class of the field by far, but Edwards couldn’t do anything with Busch until the bump-and-run.
A caution with 50 laps to go set up the final round of stops, for tires and gas, with Busch, Edwards and Denny Hamlin 1-2-3 coming in and going back out. After the bump, Hamlin too got around Busch briefly. But Busch drove back around, though he couldn’t catch Edwards, who won by five lengths.
With two races left till the 12-man playoff cut at Richmond, Busch remains atop the standings with 3609 points, followed by Edwards with 3397, Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 3193, Jimmie Johnson with 3191, Jeff Burton with 3117, Tony Stewart with 3013, Greg Biffle with 2984, Kevin Harvick with 2972, Jeff Gordon with 2951, Matt Kenseth with 2921, Hamlin with 2900, and Clint Bowyer with 2855. On the bubble in 13th is David Ragan, 12 points out; and 14th is Kasey Kahne, 56 points out.
Flames come from the side of the car of Kasey Kahne (9) after crashing during the Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
It was a very rough evening for some championship playoff contenders.
—Earnhardt Jr. started in a hole, 40th after a poor qualifying run, and dug himself even deeper by drawing an early one-lap penalty for passing cars before the start of the race. He finished 18th.
—Johnson’s night didn’t go well either. Just moments after the start he banged into the wall after trying to squeeze by Sterling Marlin. That incident cost Johnson several laps in the pits for repairs to his right-front fender, and he never recovered. He finished 33rd.
—Burton, running top-10, got caught up in an incident triggered by bumping between Stewart and Sterling Marlin and was knocked out of the race. He finished 42nd.
—Kahne, a victim like Burton, went out after a big crash, which also involved Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish, chase contender Bowyer, Casey Mears and Michael Waltrip. Mears triggered the incident when moved up into Waltrip: “I heard ‘clear, clear, clear,’ and moved up, and there was someone still there,” Mears complained. “I love my spotter, but a bunch of cars got wiped out for no good reason.” That didn’t keep Bowyer from complaining “Michael Waltrip is the worst driver in NASCAR, period.” “I just saw cars wrecking everywhere in front of me, and the next thing I know I got hit from behind,” Kahne said after finishing 40th.
Burton took his fate as well as could be expected: “I was trying to be smart and cautious….but didn’t do me any good. Whoever was behind me didn’t see what was going on, and I got run over.
“Things like this are going to hurt you. But there is nothing we could have done different. You can’t lose sleep over things like that. We will be okay.”
Burton came into the race 349 points behind leader Busch, but with a 350-point cushion over the 12th place playoff cut.
And Busch had a very narrow escape when Dave Blaney was involved in a hard crash triggered by David Gilliland brushing Regan Smith into the outside wall with 200 laps to go. Blaney was hot: “That’s three in a row I’ve been knocked out of.”
Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya’s struggles continue; he’s now losing one of his major sponsors, Texaco. And teammate Reed Sorenson is noncommittal about his plans for 2009, amid reports about what sponsor Target might do next. Car owner Chip Ganassi, apparently under a new cost-control program (which could be costing the teams speed and horsepower as much as dollars), is considering outsourcing its engine program to Evernham-Gillett, according to sources. But Sorenson, three years now with Ganassi and still looking for his first tour win, may be moving himself to Evernham-Gillett, in an expansion to a fourth team.
Monday’s press conference at Joe Gibbs’ shop is to announce a new driver for 2009, presumably Joey Logano, who is expected to run five to seven Cup races this season, possibly beginning at Richmond in two weeks.
With Senator Joe Biden (D, Delaware) now a vice presidential candidate, he could be one of the pre-race celebrities at the upcoming Dover 400 Sept. 21. NASCAR CEO Brian France says he has invited both presidential candidates to NASCAR races this season. Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, attended the Pocono 500.
Bristol Motor Speedway packed in 168,000, another sellout, for Saturday night’s 500 (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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