NASCAR – Sharpie 500, Bristol Motor Speedway – Sat Aug 23

A brand new rivalry may have been born here at the Bristol Motor Speedway, where the claustrophobic tight confines of a floodlit night race at the half mile oval bred antagonism and a bad-tempered finish between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

It was Edwards who quickly raced away into the lead as the green flag flew with Jeff Gordon hot on his tale. But a couple of the other top contenders for the chase soon ran into problems: Dale Earnhardt Jr was given a drive-thru penalty for a blatant overtaking move before passing the green flag, putting him an instant lap down; and on lap 27, Jimmie Johnson and Sterling Marlin got together. It didn’t bring out a caution, but Johnson sustained a lot of damage and a flat tire, necessitating a lengthy stop in the pits that put him 13 laps down.

After 45 laps of green flag racing at this tiny circuit, Edwards was in the thick of the backmarkers – and one in particular, Juan Pablo Montoya, was proving a stubborn obstacle. For lap after lap, Edwards – now joined side-by-side by Gordon – battled to get past, but Montoya wasn’t budging.

And then in the cheekiest move you’ll see all season, Kyle Busch – who had been working his way up from a 9th place start – caught this group and sailed past on the inside as Edwards and Montoya bumped each other and took their eye off the low side. “Not that hard now, was it? his spotter was heard to taunt the others who were still bottled up behind Montoya for several laps longer.

The first yellow didn’t come out till lap 97, when Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger got together after Allmendinger’s tyre seemed to let do suddenly. The cars all came in for their first pit stop, even though it was some 20-30 laps early for the optimal strategy.

After the stops, Busch still led Edwards and Gordon, with Ryan newman and Kevin Harvick making up the rest of he top 5. Elliot Sadler had a horrible pit stop, running into the pit wall in the crowded conditions on pit row, and then rubbed salt into the wound when he had come in again to have his seatbelt tightened up – all of which put him 6 laps down. Dale Earnhardt was also having problems, with a tyre going down giving him over-revving problems down the straights whenever he tried to put the fuel down.

But no problems for Kyle Busch, whose lead over the rest was helped when Newman caught Gordon and Edwards and entered a three-way fight for second place. Green flag racing continued for 92 laps until the second caution period, when a yellow came out on lap 195 for a multi-car accident.

Sterling Marlin bumped the read of Sam Hornish Jr, causing Marlin to spin; Jeff Burton slowed up in response to the emerging wreck of him, and behind him the unsighted Joe Nemechek ploughed into him and turned the number 31 into a spin and heavy contact with the wall that put him out of the race – the classified finish of 40th will hurt him badly in the race for the chase.

The green flag flew again on lap 206 after a second round of pit stops; Busch was still leading, but Ryan Newman had won the battle for second and was ahead of Edwards – until Carl passed him to take the spot back two laps after the restart,

The green flag conditions didn’t last long: a big, multiple car crash brought out first a yellow and then a red on lap 216. It seemed to be sparked when Casey Mears moved up the race track to find Michael Waltrip occupying the space, which tipped Mears into a spin and the resulting mayhem enveloped Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson, Clint Bowyer, Robby Gordon and Sam Hornish Jr. to various degrees. Kahne, Sorenson, Gordon, Hornish and Mears were all out – particularly damaging to Kahne who is very much on the bubble for the chase. Bowyer sustained heavy damage to his front right section but was able to continue without going a lap down. As to who was to blame – many put it at the door of Waltrip, but a furious Mears angrily blamed his spotter for calling “Clear, clear, clear” when it wasn’t.

After the restart, it was Jeff Gordon in the wars – losing 3rd to Denny Hamlin after Hamlin dumped him, and then bumped twice by Tony Stewart, who received a warning from NASCAR for aggressive driving as a result. But in front, Kyle Busch carried serenely on in the lead.

That almost changed on lap 280 when David Blaney spin in turn 2 and hit the wall, an innocent victim of being nudged by another car reacting in turn to a bump and grind going on in front of them; he lost the car, and Kyle Busch was coming up fast behind him to lap him. Kyle narrowly avoided Blaney’s car by taking to the inside apron, but it was within inches of being an utter disaster for the race leader.

After a yellow for debris on lap 343, Carl Edwards made his most concerted effort to retake the lead from Busch. But he couldn’t quite make it stick, and Kyle then started to pull away again: clearly Carl was faster immediately after a yellow, but then Kyle got back into his groove after a few laps under green.

Circumstances played into Carl’s hands, with another yellow on lap 452 allowing everyone to make their final pit stops. Carl wasn’t able to make a move on Kyle at the restart, but two laps later and the yellows were out again (for debris). On lap 466 the greens came out – and it was Carl’s one last best chance to make his move.

He did it with precision ruthlessness: he “bumped” Kyle ever so slightly, just causing Kyle to lose slight stability, The small amount Kyle had to check up was enough to allow Carl to slip though into the lead for the first time in 416 laps: Kyle tried to bump right back but it backfired and he even lost second place for a period to Denny Hamlin as a result. When he dispatched Hamlin, Kyle found Carl had made good his escape from the scene and had an unbeatable lead: it was Carl who took the chequered flag.

Kyle was not happy, to say the least, and when he caught up to Carl after the finish line, he quite blatantly swerved into him to make that displeasure known. A summons to the NASCAR command centre was quickly issued and sanctions are to be expected: a shame, considering that the race was marked by an unexpected patience and maturity on Kyle’s part up till that point.

Behind the duelling duo, Hamlin, Harvick, Gordon and Newman picked up valuable points for the chase, while it was Kasey Kahne who was the evening’s biggest loser in the standings.

Final positions:

Pos ST  CAR DRIVER              MAKE        PTS/BNS LAP STATUS
1   1   99  Carl Edwards        Ford        190/5   500 Running
2   9   18  Kyle Busch          Toyota      180/10  500 Running
3   21  11  Denny Hamlin        Toyota      165/0   500 Running
4   6   29  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   160/0   500 Running
5   3   24  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   160/5   500 Running
6   11  12  Ryan Newman         Dodge       150/0   500 Running
7   22  07  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   146/0   500 Running
8   28  20  Tony Stewart        Toyota      142/0   500 Running
9   25  17  Matt Kenseth        Ford        138/0   500 Running
10  27  6   David Ragan         Ford        134/0   500 Running
11  14  16  Greg Biffle         Ford        130/0   500 Running
12  41  26  Jamie McMurray      Ford        127/0   500 Running
13  23  8   Aric Almirola       Chevrolet   124/0   500 Running
14  4   01  Regan Smith *       Chevrolet   121/0   500 Running
15  19  2   Kurt Busch          Dodge       118/0   500 Running
16  16  15  Paul Menard         Chevrolet   115/0   498 Running
17  20  70  Tony Raines         Chevrolet   112/0   498 Running
18  40  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet   109/0   497 Running
19  39  42  Juan Montoya        Dodge       106/0   497 Running
20  26  83  Brian Vickers       Toyota      103/0   497 Running
21  7   96  Ken Schrader        Toyota      100/0   497 Running
22  15  38  David Gilliland     Ford        97/0    497 Running
23  37  43  Bobby Labonte       Dodge       94/0    497 Running
24  32  28  Travis Kvapil       Ford        91/0    497 Running
25  2   44  David Reutimann     Toyota      88/0    496 Running
26  5   21  Bill Elliott        Ford        85/0    496 Running
27  38  66  Scott Riggs         Chevrolet   82/0    495 Running
28  33  00  Mike Skinner        Toyota      79/0    495 Running
29  43  78  Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet   76/0    493 Running
30  42  55  Michael Waltrip     Toyota      73/0    491 Running
31  29  45  Kyle Petty          Dodge       70/0    490 Running
32  10  19  Elliott Sadler      Dodge       67/0    489 Running
33  34  48  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   64/0    481 Running
34  8   84  A.J. Allmendinger   Toyota      61/0    399 Running
35  12  1   Martin Truex Jr.    Chevrolet   58/0    395 Running
36  30  41  Reed Sorenson       Dodge       55/0    382 Running
37  35  77  Sam Hornish Jr. *   Dodge       52/0    297 In Pit
38  36  22  Dave Blaney         Toyota      49/0    279 Running
39  31  7   Robby Gordon        Dodge       46/0    227 In Pit
40  13  9   Kasey Kahne         Dodge       43/0    215 In Pit
41  17  5   Casey Mears         Chevrolet   40/0    214 Running
42  18  31  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   37/0    195 In Pit
43  24  109 Sterling Marlin     Chevrolet   34/0    184 Running

Championship standings:

Pos +/- Car Driver              Make        Pts     Behind
1   --  #18 Kyle Busch          Toyota      3609    --     
2   --  #99 Carl Edwards        Ford        3397    -212   
3   +1  #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet   3193    -416   
4   -1  #48 Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   3191    -418   
5   --  #31 Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   3117    -492   
6   --  #20 Tony Stewart        Toyota      3013    -596   
7   --  #16 Greg Biffle         Ford        2984    -625   
8   --  #29 Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   2972    -637   
9   --  #24 Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   2951    -658   
10  --  #17 Matt Kenseth        Ford        2921    -688   
11  +1  #11 Denny Hamlin        Toyota      2900    -709   
12  +1  #07 Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   2855    -754
--------------- RACE FOR THE CHASE ----------------------
13  +1  #6  David Ragan         Ford        2843    -766   
14  -3  #9  Kasey Kahne         Dodge       2799    -810   
15  +2  #12 Ryan Newman         Dodge       2674    -935   
16  -1  #83 Brian Vickers       Toyota      2672    -937   
17  -1  #1  Martin Truex Jr.    Chevrolet   2592    -1017  
18  --  #26 Jamie McMurray      Ford        2492    -1117  
19  --  #2  Kurt Busch          Dodge       2442    -1167  
20  --  #19 Elliott Sadler      Dodge       2364    -1245  
21  --  #42 Juan Montoya        Dodge       2311    -1298  
22  --  #43 Bobby Labonte       Dodge       2297    -1312  
23  --  #28 Travis Kvapil       Ford        2286    -1323  
24  --  #5  Casey Mears         Chevrolet   2219    -1390  
25  +1  #38 David Gilliland     Ford        2161    -1448  
26  +1  #44 David Reutimann     Toyota      2136    -1473  
27  -2  #8  Mark Martin         Chevrolet   2115    -1494  
28  --  #15 Paul Menard         Chevrolet   2089    -1520  
29  --  #7  Robby Gordon        Dodge       1868    -1741  
30  +1  #55 Michael Waltrip     Toyota      1861    -1748  
31  -1  #41 Reed Sorenson       Dodge       1855    -1754  
32  --  #22 Dave Blaney         Toyota      1825    -1784  
33  --  #77 Sam Hornish Jr.     Dodge       1823    -1786  
34  +1  #01 Regan Smith         Chevrolet   1781    -1828  
35  -1  #66 Scott Riggs         Chevrolet   1754    -1855  
36  +1  #78 Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet   1409    -2200  
37  -1  #10 Patrick Carpentier  Dodge       1406    -2203  
38  --  #84 A.J. Allmendinger   Toyota      1366    -2243  
39  --  #96 J.J. Yeley          Toyota      1263    -2346  
40  --  #00 Michael McDowell    Toyota      1200    -2409
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