BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) - Kyle Busch held off teammate Jeff Gordon
on a restart, then beat Jeff Burton in a drag race to the finish
line to win the first Car of Tomorrow race Sunday at Bristol Motor
Busch took the lead with 16 laps to go on a smooth pass around
Denny Hamlin in thick traffic and stayed there through a pair of
cautions. Busch had driven away from the competition when the 15th
and final caution set up overtime.
With Busch and Gordon running 1-2 at the restart, the two
plotted their own strategy with their respective crew chiefs.
"Well, good job guys," Busch sighed at the final caution.
"We'll do what we can. I can't promise you anything."
"He'll be nice," crew chief Alan Gustafson said. "He'll play
It didn't sound that way on Gordon's channel.
"Tell that 5, if I get a fender underneath him, he better think
about the fact that we're teammates," Gordon said. "If I don't
get a fender underneath him, I won't move him out of the way."
It never mattered, though, as Burton jumped past Gordon on the
restart and quickly pulled onto Busch's rear bumper. Burton looked
low and Busch threw a block, then he went high and Busch blocked
Burton finally pulled alongside Busch as they closed in on the
finish line, but Busch nipped him at the flag for his first Nextel
Cup victory on a short track.
Both drivers could have spun Busch to get past him, and the 21
year old appreciated the veterans for racing him clean.
"Without Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton behind me, I never would
have won this race," Busch said.
Burton owed it to Busch, especially after their stirring finish
two weeks ago in Las Vegas. The two were battling for the win in
the closing laps and Busch could have wrecked Burton to get it.
But Busch kept it clean, ultimately losing the fight as the cars
touched and Busch spun backward across the finish line - just a
tick behind Burton.
"I could have used the bumper to move him out of the way and
win the race, but I didn't want to," Burton said. "I can lay in
bed tonight and wonder `What if?' but that's what I chose to do. If
you can't pass him without knocking him out of the way, do the best
you can. He's driven me clean, and that's what I did with him."
Gordon, the polesitter, wound up third and was thrilled with the
effort after struggling for most of the race.
"We struggled yesterday in practice and we fought really hard
today," Gordon said. "We're fortunate. We stayed on the lead lap.
I'm really happy for Kyle."
Busch's win was the third straight for Hendrick Motorsports -
Jimmie Johnson won the past two Cup events - and was the 200th
overall win for car owner Rick Hendrick. It also was the 600th for
manufacturer Chevrolet, which introduced the Impala SS this weekend
to coincide with NASCAR's debut of the Car of Tomorrow.
The COT spent seven years in development as NASCAR tried to
build a uniform car that would cut costs, improve safety and even
the competition. It will be used in 16 races this season as NASCAR
phases it in through the 2009 season.
It's introduction had teams fretting for months over performance
and the many unknowns the COT created.
But when the race finally began, everything seemed pretty
normal. Except for the design of the cars, which have a front
splitter and a detachable rear wing, nothing was out of the
And the worst fears - that the track would be littered with
parts and pieces everytime one of them wrecked - never developed.
But the drivers said its too early to pass judgment. The car races
again next week at Martinsville Speedway, another short track,
before getting its first true test next month in Phoenix.
"If the car is safer and races better, then I am all for it,"
Gordon said. "But we can't answer that question this weekend."
Kevin Harvick finished fourth and was followed by Greg Biffle,
Jeff Green and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Clint Bowyer finished eighth and
Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears rounded out the top 10.
Gordon took over the points lead as Mark Martin, who came into
the race on top, skipped the event and turned his keys over to
rookie Regan Smith.
Smith finished 25th and Martin dropped to eighth in the
standings - 162 back. Gordon leads Burton by three points.
As expected, Juan Pablo Montoya struggled at his first short
track, finishing 32nd after an early spin dropped him several laps
down. But he still considered the day a success.
"We got the car home and scored some more points and just go on
to the next one," he said. "It was pretty easy, to be honest."
A.J. Allmendinger, the former Champ Car star, also struggled. He
was 40th in his Nextel Cup debut.
"You know, I used to think Champ Car was tough to drive,"
Allmendinger said. "But do 500 laps around this place. That's a
lot of work."
The race initially belonged to Tony Stewart, who pulled away to
a huge lead during the 257 laps he was out front. But his Chevrolet
lost power during a caution with 211 laps to go, and he was livid
as he pulled into the pits.
He bemoaned his bad luck in an expletive-laden rant as his Joe
Gibbs Racing team worked under the hood of his car. He returned to
the track 23 laps down.
Kasey Kahne, who ran in the top five for the first half of the
race, spun out moments before Stewart went out to take himself out
of the competition.
With the two best cars out of the running, the race opened up
for everyone else. Busch and Hamlin traded the lead several times
until traffic allowed Busch to get by him for good.
Here are the results:
2 Jeff Burton
3 Jeff Gordon
4 Kevin Harvick
5 Greg Biffle
6 Jeff Green
7 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8 Clint Bowyer
9 Jamie McMurray
10 Casey Mears
11 Matt Kenseth
12 Carl Edwards
13 David Stremme
14 Denny Hamlin
15 Brian Vickers
16 Jimmie Johnson
17 Mike Bliss
18 Ward Burton
19 Kasey Kahne
20 Kyle Petty
21 Kenny Wallace
22 Bobby Labonte
23 Dave Blaney
24 Tony Raines
25 Regan Smith
26 David Ragan
27 Elliott Sadler
28 Ken Schrader
29 Kurt Busch
30 Sterling Marlin
31 Scott Riggs
32 Juan Pablo Montoya
33 Robby Gordon
34 Jeremy Mayfield
35 Tony Stewart
36 J.J. Yeley
37 Martin Truex Jr.
38 Ricky Rudd
39 Ryan Newman
40 A.J. Allmendinger
41 David Gilliland
42 Dale Jarrett