Auto racing: Kurt Busch wins again at Atlanta after 2 crashes
AP Sports Writer
HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch was running out front with three laps to go when things really got interesting.
First, a frightening crash that seemed intentional between two feuding drivers.
Then, another spinning, slamming melee before the white flag came out.
"We've got to win this race three times, maybe even four times," a frustrated Busch said on his radio.
Not to worry. Busch survived a couple of overtime restarts and 16 extra laps to win again Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a race marred by accusations that Carl Edwards purposely wrecked Brad Keselowski's car, sending it 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 in the Kobalt Tools 500. Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard.
"The Deuce is back, baby!" Busch said after his No. 2 Dodge took the checkered flag.
The race went 341 laps instead of its scheduled 325 because of two big crashes near the end. The first one drew the most attention.
Edwards, running 156 laps behind, clipped 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.
"That's not cool," Keselowski said. "He could have killed someone in the grandstands."
NASCAR put off a decision on whether to discipline Edwards until at least Monday.
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 victory overall and snapped Jimmie Johnson's two-race winning streak. "I felt we won the race outright today."
Keselowki and Edwards were involved in a spectacular crash racing for the win at Talladega last year. Edwards' car flew up toward the stands, ripping out the fencing, and Keselowski sped on by for the victory.
Early in the Atlanta race, more trouble between those two. Keselowski nicked Edwards coming through the turn, 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 line.
"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."
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 big chunks out of Busch's lead. But the leader said he wasn't worried.
"He could have gotten to our outside coming to the checkered," Busch said, "but there was no way he was going to get by."
The Edwards-Keselowski scrap with three laps to go made it a moot point, leading to 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.
There wasn't much drama on the next restart. Busch got away cleanly, zipped around the track two more times and took the checkered flag. He then headed off on a victory lap in reverse.
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.
Junior returned to the track just as teammate Mark Martin blew a tire, which sent him spinning through the trioval 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.
His winless streak is now 61 races.
"We weren't very good," Earnhardt said. "It felt like the damn wheels were coming off."