Kyle Busch claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season by holding off a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a short sprint to the finish at Richmond on Saturday night.
It was a fourth consecutive victory at the track's spring event for Busch, who made the most of a quick final stop from his crew to lead the field during the final restart, ahead of reigning champion Tony Stewart.
When the green flag waved for the final nine laps, Hendrick's Earnhardt was quick away while Stewart spun his tires, surging up to second place to put the pressure on the leader. However, a long brake pedal prevented Earnhardt from challenging Busch.
"Wherever that last caution came from, that was the saving grace, just the luck of the day," said Busch. "It put us in the right position there coming down pit road behind Tony, and the guys did a fast pit stop, got us the lead off pit road, which was a huge advantage, just being able to give me the control of the restart and not have to wait on Tony or cause myself to spin my tires or what have you and get behind.
"Once I got out front, I knew I had ten laps, I could abuse the heck out of that thing and drive it for all it was worth and didn't have to save any tires."
Busch's 24th Cup win completed a successful weekend at Richmond, following his maiden Nationwide Series victory as a team owner, claimed by his elder brother Kurt on Saturday night in a close finish with Denny Hamlin.
Plenty of controversy arose from the fourth and penultimate caution of the race, where Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards was penalized for jumping the restart as he shared the front row with Stewart.
Edwards had yet to pit when the caution waved, while all his rivals had already gone to pit road and most of them were a lap down as a consequence. When almost the whole field took the wave around by virtue of staying out when Edwards pitted, the order changed at the front of the field.
There seemed to be confusion regarding who was leading at the time amid conflicting information, one timing source suggesting Edwards was ahead but a different one saying it was Stewart leading the filed on the restart.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed his team was told by NASCAR it was the leader ahead of the restart and was adamant officials made the wrong call by showing him the black flag, costing him a chance to claim his first win of the season after he had led more than half the distance.
"NASCAR told my spotter about three seconds before the restart that the 99 was the leader," claimed a furious Edwards after finishing 10th. "They put us on the scoreboard as the leader and I realized I was at a disadvantaged position on the outside lane and NASCAR made a little mistake.
"I got the best start I could and Tony didn't start or spun his tires and NASCAR black-flagged us. I don't know why they black-flagged me. I don't think it is right and I don't agree with it."
Officials confirmed Stewart, not Edwards, was the leader of the race at the time and clarified that the penalty had not been imposed for passing Stewart, but due to jumping the restart by accelerating ahead of the restart zone.
Stewart, who finished third after his poor final restart, having led 112 laps before that, suggested it was due to miscommunication in Edwards' team.
"We were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board," said the reigning champion. "So I don't know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader. If that was the case then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It's a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers."
JGR's Denny Hamlin finished fourth ahead of Hendrick's Kasey Kahne and a charging Jimmie Johnson, who had to serve a pit road penalty which dropped him to the tail of the lead-lap cars during the same fourth caution.
Once again there were few incidents and long green-flag stretches, but the fifth and final caution, waved due to a plastic bottle lying on the track at Turn 2, allowed for a closer finish than in the past few weeks.
Results - 400 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 2h51m06.000s
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.095s
3. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 2.021s
4. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 2.545s
5. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.887s
6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.375s
7. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 4.145s
8. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 4.677s
9. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 4.942s
10. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 5.163s
11. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 5.606s
12. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet + 6.106s
13. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 7.331s
14. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet + 16.044s
15. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 16.062s
16. AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge + 17.425s
17. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 17.514s
18. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 17.864s
19. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 19.219s
20. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 1 lap
21. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 1 lap
22. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap
23. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
24. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
25. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
26. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 2 laps
27. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps
28. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 3 laps
29. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
30. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 3 laps
31. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 4 laps
32. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 6 laps
33. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 6 laps
34. Reed Sorenson FAS Lane Ford + 8 laps
35. Stephen Leicht Falk Chevrolet + 9 laps
36. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 45 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 139 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 127 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 67 laps
Cole Whitt Turn One Chevrolet 29 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 28 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 23 laps
Scott Speed Leavine Family Ford 19 laps
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