BRISTOL, Tenn. — Carl Edwards spent most of his Saturday evening trying to get to Kyle Busch’s rear bumper. Once he finally got there, Edwards made sure he got his money’s worth.
When Edwards caught up to the race leader with 31 laps left in the Sharpie 500, he put his fender into Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. The contact moved Busch up the track and allowed Edwards to pass low and win his second straight fall race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The victory was Edwards’ third Sprint Cup win in the past four races, allowing him to close the gap on Busch with the Chase for the championship right around the corner.
It also may have marked the beginning of a new rivalry in NASCAR.
“That’s one of those deals where I couldn’t get by him,” Edwards said. “I just had to ask myself, ‘Would he do that to me,’ and he has before. That’s the way it goes.
“They keep talking about rivalries — we might have one now.”
Busch dominated the race, leading 415 laps before Edwards got past him following the final restart of the race.
“He does that and he’ll always come back and say he’s sorry,” Busch said. “We’ll race him that way in the Chase if that’s how he wants to race.”
After the checkered flag fell, Busch caught up to Edwards’ Ford during the cooldown lap and slammed into him. Edwards retaliated by spinning out Busch on the backstretch — delighting the sellout crowd.
Edwards, the polesitter, led until he got tangled up with Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 55. Montoya was fighting hard to keep from going a lap down and Busch took advantage with a low pass on Edwards for his first lead.
Busch appeared to be well on his way to the most dominant victory at Bristol since Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps at the spring race in 1978. Busch won every race off pit road, including the money stop on lap 451 when the leaders made their final trips to the pits.
“It was all going fine there until the end,” Busch said. “The (car) was flawless for a long time on those long runs. We could check out and get through practice way better than anybody else.”
In the end, a bold move by Edwards ensured that the driver who led the most laps in a Cup race at Bristol went home empty-handed for the sixth straight time.
“That was a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “I just bumped him, threw him out of the way.
“In the back of my mind, all I could think about was Richmond and the Nationwide race when he was trying to get through the field and he pile-drove me.”
Denny Hamlin finished third, bouncing back from a disastrous race at Michigan last week and keeping his Chase hopes alive.
“There’s still an edge,” Hamlin said. “It’s just not as sharp. This is what we needed.”
Hamlin’s Chase hopes were helped by a multicar wreck on lap 217 that knocked Kasey Kahne from the race. At the end of the night, Hamlin was 11th in the points while Kahne slipped to 14th after a 40th-place finish.
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five. Clint Bowyer finished seventh, putting him in the 12th and final slot in the Chase with two races remaining before the cutoff.
Aside from Edwards, it was a great night for Roush Fenway Racing, which placed three cars in the top 10 and all five in the top 12.
With his sixth win of the season, Edwards closed the gap on points leader Busch even further as the Chase nears. If neither driver wins in the next two races, Busch will enter the Chase with 80 bonus points and Edwards 60.
Edwards said he was confronted by J.D. Gibbs in the pits following the race and the message was clear — you reap what you sow. But the way Edwards sees it, he was just evening the score.
“Let’s make it real clear,” he said. “I’m not apologizing for it.”