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Kyle Busch's wife greets him with a hug in Victory Lane following his win in the Food City 500.
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BRISTOL, Tenn. - Sunday marked the beginning of a new era in NASCAR, and one of the Nextel Cup circuit's young guns ushered it in by holding off a pair of veterans.
Kyle Busch managed to hold off teammate Jeff Gordon and a hard charging Jeff Burton to win the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With the victory, Busch claimed the first win in a Car of Tomorrow race, gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th win and gave Chevrolet its 600th victory. But all milestones aside, Busch still isn't a fan of NASCAR's new ride.
"Without Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton behind me, I never would have won the race," Busch said. "I'm still not a big fan of these things; I can't stand to drive them."
The cars may have been new school, but an old school rule still applied - the only lap it pays to lead is the last one.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin dominated all day, leading 434 of 504 laps.
But a blown fuel pump on lap 288 ended Stewart's chances, and Busch eventually caught up with Hamlin, spending a good part of the last 50 laps stalking the No. 11 Chevy.
When a blown tire on Jimmie Johnson's car forced Hamlin to check up behind the No. 48 car with 16 laps left, Busch pounced, speeding around Hamlin to claim the lead just seconds before a caution flag came out.
Busch and Hamlin rolled the dice by staying out while everyone else on the lead lap went in for fresh tires, a move that paid off for Busch and backfired for Hamlin.
When Hamlin saw everyone behind him head for the pits, he summed it up in two words.
"We're dead," Hamlin said to his team over the radio. Turns out he was right. Busch was able to hold off the field, but Hamlin went backward, eventually finishing 14th.
Busch said he expected Gordon to race him cleanly, but he was grateful to Burton for the courtesy he showed at the end.
Burton dumped the 21-year-old on the frontstretch heading toward the finish line to pick up a Busch Series win in Las Vegas a couple of weeks back, and Busch was concerned history might repeat itself Sunday at Bristol.
"Burton could have dumped me in three and four, but I think our Vegas finish helped me out," Busch said. "I had brownie points to use up, and I think I used them up in one spot there."
Burton held on for second, headlining a good day for Richard Childress Racing, which had two cars in the top five and three in the top 10. "You know, I wanted to win the race real bad, but if you can't pass him without knocking him out of the way, you do the best you can," Burton said. "He's driven me clean, and I tried to return that to them."
It was a topsy-turvy day for Gordon, who started on the pole, but fell back as far as 27th before charging back to finish third.
"It's unfortunate we got that far behind," Gordon said. "We went backwards pretty fast but did a fantastic job making adjustments. That was teamwork right there."
The way Kevin Harvick sees it, somebody at Goodyear owes him a refund.
"We just got one crappy set of tires and it's just a shame," Harvick said after finishing fourth. "They should give those to you for free because they're junk."
With Mark Martin sticking to his commitment to run a part-time schedule, Gordon assumed the points lead and Burton moved into second, just three points behind Gordon.
Busch is now sixth in points after the win, placing him one position ahead of the idle Martin.
It proved to be a rough day for the two men who have dominated Bristol as of late. Matt Kenseth, who came in as the winner of three of the last four Cup races at BMS, never could manage to get his car up to the front and settled for an 11th place finish.
"I think we busted a shock with about 200 (laps) to go, and that pretty much did us in," Kenseth said. "We didn't have a really good day, but we didn't finish too bad." Kurt Busch, the winner of last year's Food City 500, started 42nd. He moved to the front when the leaders pitted, leading 10 laps before falling back to a 29th place finish. While the cars drove differently, it was a typical Bristol race - the yellow flag waved 15 times for a total of 90 laps.
Despite picking up the win, Kyle Busch isn't getting too happy heading into next week's race at Martinsville.
"We still have some work to do," he said. "We certainly weren't the class of the field. Tony Stewart was that."
Greg Biffle's car failed a post-race inspection when NASCAR deemed that the No. 16 Ford Fusion was too low. Biffle finished fifth Sunday.
Any penalties that may be levied against the driver or team owner Jack Roush have not yet been determined, as the car will be returned to Charlotte for further inspection.
Any penalties are expected to be announced early this week.