A week ago, Kyle Busch told reporters he was "sick and tired" after a Bristol wipeout cost him a chance at a third straight victory. Seven days later, Busch has only teammate Carl Edwards to blame for keeping him out of Victory Lane.
Edwards bumped his teammate out of the way in Corner 4 of the final lap Sunday, pushing himself to his second win of 2016 at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Edwards is the third two-time winner of the season, joining Busch and Jimmie Johnson. He also ascends to the point lead, as he not only has a lead in ties but has also been NASCAR's most consistent performer.
While Edwards had an impressive move to win the race, Alex Ptachick of USA Today wasn't impressed with his patented backflip:
Post-race reaction will be particularly interesting in this case, given Busch and Edwards are teammates. In most cases, this would fall under the "rubbin's racin'" mantra. But teammates bumping one another out of the way is a bit of a rarity in today's NASCAR, especially in a race that won't matter much over the long run. Edwards already earned himself a Chase bid last week at Bristol.
|9||Martin Truex Jr.|
Yet it was clear down the stretch that Edwards had the superior car. He rode Busch's tail during the final laps, only for the No. 18 car to pull in front of him on every good run. It appeared Edwards finally had enough with the checkered flag looming and nearly sent Busch into the wall on his way to the win.
Busch and Edwards were more than two seconds ahead of any other driver. Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. Eight different drivers led at least one lap, with Edwards posting a race-high 151.
This is the fifth race of 2016 led by a Joe Gibbs Racing driver and the fourth straight. Ford has only taken one race this season, as Toyota and Chevrolet have clearly established themselves as NASCAR's dominant forces. Krista Voda of NBC Sports highlighted how lopsided the season has been:
|9||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||278||0|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||246||0|
In his first race of the 2016 season, Tony Stewart earned a 19th-place finish. Stewart, 44, is in his final season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. He will cede his No. 14 ride to Clint Bowyer in 2017.
"I don't know about from the NASCAR standpoint, but from a competitor's standpoint Tony is one of the fiercest competitors in the sport, so to have him there and have someone to battle against is fun," Edwards said, per Holly Cain of NASCAR.com.
The beginning of Stewart's swan song was delayed by two months after he suffered a back injury while riding a dune buggy. NASCAR granted him a special waiver for the Chase later this season, but Stewart did not look like a contender Sunday. His No. 14 car spent most of the day hanging near the tail end of the lead lap or even off the pace, dealing with tire problems that caused him to spin on Lap 268:
Still, Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com noted Stewart was happy just to be back on the track:
Stewart also talked about those who doubted his ability to perform, telling reporters (via Dustin Long of NBC Sports): “If there is anybody that thinks we've lost it, we haven’t lost s--t. Kiss my ass.’’
It also wasn't much of a fun afternoon for Chase contenders AJ Allmendinger and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Allmendinger came into the day clinging to the 14th spot in the Chase standings before turning in a disappointing 25th-place finish. Stenhouse, who was a spot out of the Chase in 17th, is looking at an even more difficult trek after struggling his way to 26th.
Tires were the major issue for Stenhouse, who had to make a green-flag pit stop due to a vibration. He was bordering on a top-10 finish until those issues left him playing catch-up the rest of the way.
For the most part, though, this was a rather uneventful race. No cars finished more than 10 laps down, and there were only eight cautions—a nonexistent number for a Richmond race. Those cautions lasted just 49 laps, so this was an afternoon of largely clean racing.
With the incidents at a minimum and its tire issues from Bristol behind it, Joe Gibbs Racing clearly established itself as the team to beat in 2016. Whether its teammates get along or not.
Edwards spoke of his last-lap decision, per Brant James of USA Today:
[Busch] is an amazing teammate. He got really slow there at the end, it's like something happened to him on that last lap. He went down in Turn 1, and I dove it in, and I'm like "Man, I got something here," ...We've both got wins. We're racing for fun, getting these trophies. Just an awesome day. Man, I didn’t think we had anything for him. Kyle was so good. If (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) hadn't screamed at me on the radio to just go get him, I don't know if I ever would have caught him. Big win for us.
Stewart was also happy with how the race went:
What I’ll remember is how much fun I had today. This place is so cool anyway. It's always been my favorite race track. I knew a day race would open things up. The drivers got to dictate it today. You weren't just stuck in one line, you were able to move around and change lanes...I had a good time. I'm looking forward to running the rest of the year with these guys.
Busch commented on the situation as well, per Joe Menzer of Fox Sports: "We were fast. Maybe not as good as [Edwards] on the long runs, but we did everything right. We did everything we were supposed to do and put ourselves in the right position."