HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch survived a couple
of restarts and 16 extra laps to win again Sunday at Atlanta Motor
Speedway, a race marred by accusations of an intentional crash that sent
a car hurtling toward the main stands upside down.
Busch won the spring race at the 1.54-mile
trioval for the second year in a row, beating Matt Kenseth to the line
by nearly half a second. Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kasey
Kahne and Paul Menard.
The race went 341 laps instead of its scheduled
325 because of two big crashes. The first one drew the most attention.
Carl Edwards, running 156 laps behind, clipped
Brad Keselowski and caused his car to spin, then lift into the air at
around 190 mph. It smashed into the barrier in front of the stands
roof-first, then flipped back onto the track right side up. Keselowski
was OK, but NASCAR ordered Edwards to park his car and summoned him to
its trailer for a tongue-lashing.
“To come back and just intentionally wreck
someone, that’s not cool,” Keselowski said. “He could have killed
someone in the grandstands.”
On the first attempt at a green-white-checkered
finish, another crash took out seven cars coming through turns three
and four. Finally, they got in two clean laps, and it was Busch all the
way for his third career win in Atlanta.
“You have to adjust to whatever circumstances
there are to win these races,” said Busch, who claimed his 21st career
victory and snapped Jimmie Johnson‘s two-race winning streak. “I felt we
won the race outright today. There’s no doubt we did the job on pit
road. We did the job on long runs. We hit it right on the restarts.
That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Keselowski nicked Edwards early in the race,
which sent him crashing into Joey Logano. Edwards spent much of the day
in the garage, but returned to take out his frustration in what appeared
to be an intentional tap on Keselowski coming across the start-finish
After Edwards was ordered off the track, he
drove defiantly around the quarter-mile track in front of the stands and
went backward down the pit lane. Once he climbed from the car, he
didn’t even bother with a denial.
“Brad knows the deal between him and I,”
Edwards said. “The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not
what I expected at all. At the end of the day, we’re out here to race
and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of
respect for people’s safety.”
Johnson, the four-time defending Sprint Cup
champion, was coming off wins at California and Las Vegas. He climbed
into contention again, getting as high as third, but a bad pit stop and a
scrape with Ryan Newman cost Johnson a chance to become the first
driver since 2007 to make it three in a row. He finished 12th.
Denny Hamlin cut a tire with 36 laps to go —
one of at least a dozen drivers taken out by tire problems — and Busch
emerged from the pits out front.
As the race headed into its final laps,
Montoya was cutting some big chunks out of Busch’s lead. Then things
really got interesting.
The Edwards-Keselowski scrap with three laps
to go forced the first attempt at an overtime finish. Busch came to the
restart trailing a couple of drivers who took only two tires in the
pits, but a brilliant move shot him right back to the front.
Busch hugged the rear bumper of Clint Bowyer‘s
car, then dipped to the inside and split both him and Menard heading
through the first turn. Busch appeared to be pulling away, but Jamie
McMurray got into Bowyer before the field could take the white flag,
leading to a seven-car pileup and another try for a clean finish.
“We’ve got to win this race three times, maybe
even four times,” a frustrated Busch said on his radio.
There wasn’t much drama on the next restart.
Busch got away cleanly, zipped around the track two more times at more
than 190 mph and took the checkered flag. He then returned to the
flagstand, grabbed the symbol of his win and headed off on a victory lap
Pole winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost the lead
on the very first lap but was running near the front when a mysterious
tire problem sent him to the pits on lap 114 under a green flag. He
radioed that a tire felt loose, but the crew found it fully inflated
after making the change. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the
problem, though the No. 88 team was able to rule out another problem
with the axle, the issue that ruined Earnhardt’s day at California two
Junior returned to the track just as Hendrick
Motorsports teammate Mark Martin blew a tire, which sent him spinning
through the tri-oval grass to bring out a caution flag. The unfortunate
timing cost Earnhardt dearly; he slipped a lap down and never got back
in the mix, though all the trouble at the end boosted him to 15th in the
His winless streak is now 61 races. Going back
farther, Earnhardt has only one win in his last 138 races.