Kyle Busch celebrates Sunday after winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn.AP photo
BRISTOL, Tenn. — As Jeff Burton considered how to beat Kyle Busch in the closing laps at Bristol Motor Speedway, he couldn’t shake the lessons his mother taught him as a child.
“My mother always told me to do onto other people the way you want them to do you,” Burton remembered. “That’s the only thing I know to do. I’ve always tried to let the guy I am racing with set the rules. ... Kyle drives hard. He drives really hard. But he’s always raced me with respect.”
And with that, Burton refused to bump Busch out of the way Sunday, instead pulling alongside of him before Busch beat him in a drag race to the finish line to win the first Car of Tomorrow race.
The two have battled in the Busch Series this season, and had a stirring door-to-door duel in Las Vegas two weeks ago that Burton won as Busch spun backward across the finish line.
Burton credited Busch with racing clean that day, and both drivers had it fresh in their memories on the final three laps Sunday.
“Jeff Burton easily could have dumped me there in three and four, but I think our Vegas finish helped me out a little bit with that,” Busch said. “I think I had some brownie points to use up.”
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. He had driven away from the competition when the 15th and final caution set up a three-lap overtime.
With Busch and teammate Jeff 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 nice.”
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 that, too.
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.
Gordon, the polesitter, wound up third and was thrilled with the effort after struggling for most of the race.
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 Car of Tomorrow 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.
Its introduction had teams fretting for months over performance and the many unknowns the Car of Tomorrow 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 appeared out of the ordinary. And the worst fears — that the track would be littered with parts and pieces every time one of them wrecked — never developed.
But the fifth-place car of Greg Biffle was too low in inspection, and NASCAR competition director Robin Pemberton said NASCAR would take the car back to North Carolina to inspect. Busch’s winning car also is being taken as NASCAR will seize several vehicles after each Car of Tomorrow race to inspect them.
Busch and Gustafson weren’t pleased that the car was being taken, but Pemberton said it would be back in their possession with plenty of time to prepare for next week’s race at Martinsville Speedway.