BRISTOL, Tenn. — The situation was perfect for Carl Edwards to issue some payback on Kyle Busch.
Instead, Edwards passed on a chance to knock Busch out of the lead over the closing laps at Bristol Motor Speedway.
As Busch pulled away for Sunday’s win — his fifth-straight dating back to last August at the Tennessee track — Edwards regretted not racing harder to potentially steal the victory. The two have a history at Bristol, and Edwards is still smarting from contact last month at Phoenix that he believed wrecked a car capable of winning the race.
“I told him after Phoenix that I still owe him one, but I’ll save it up,” Edwards said. “I thought I’d be able to race with him harder for those last 15 to 20 laps, but he took off and I just couldn’t get back to him to race. If I would have known that was the only shot I was going to have, I might have raced a little harder.”
That Edwards considered revenge was a surprise to Busch, who seemed mystified that Edwards could be holding any sort of grudge against him.
“I have no idea what I’m owed from, you’d have to ask Carl,” Busch said, later adding when asked specifically about Phoenix, “Carl says what Carl says. I don’t know. And when and where it comes, I do not know.”
It didn’t come Sunday after Busch beat Edwards and Jimmie Johnson off pit road following the final pit stops. It gave him the lead and ability to hold them off over the final 60 laps. The racing at the start of each restart was intense, but Busch consistently pulled away from Edwards to prevent any real challenge for the win.
“I was trying to drive away from him so he wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to me,” Busch said of his strategy with Edwards. “When he got to me that one time, I’m like ‘Oh, man. That was your shot. Nice try. You didn’t get it done.’ I just thought, man, if I could get away from him I wouldn’t have to worry about it, so concentrate, get going.”
He did, pulling away to complete a sweep of the weekend — he also won the second-tier Nationwide Series race on Saturday — and it was Busch’s fifth consecutive victory at Bristol dating back to a three-race sweep last August.
He’s now won five Cup races at Bristol, which ties him with older-brother Kurt in NASCAR’s top series, and has 11 victories spanning the three national series.
Busch, who drives a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, dedicated the win to the manufacturer and its employees in Japan still trying to recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Edwards settled for second and lamented not pushing Busch harder after the final restart with 37 laps remaining. Busch, Edwards and Johnson pulled away from the field, and Edwards had several opportunities to move Busch’s No. 18 Toyota out of the way.
But Edwards, in a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, figured he’d have plenty of chances closer to the finish, so he tried for a clean pass as he and Busch raced side-by-side for several laps. Busch eventually pulled away, and Edwards never had another shot.
“My gut told me there was going to be another caution,” Edwards said of his decision not to move Busch. “I figured we’d let it calm down and we’d just race. It ended up the fastest car at the end won the race. Hindsight is 20/20, but that’s the way it panned out.”
Johnson, the defending race winner, finished third in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and said he was waiting patiently for a dustup between Busch and Edwards that could have given him the win.
“We were all running really hard, and there were a couple moments where I thought I might be given a big gift,” Johnson said. ” It’s not like I was really riding. There was nowhere for me to go if I got up in there and raced with those guys. I left myself a little bit of room. These guys were digging up front and I was just waiting to see what was going to happen.”
Kenseth, Edwards’ teammate, was fourth and was followed by Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick for Richard Childress Racing. Kurt Busch was seventh and the highest finishing Dodge driver. Greg Biffle finished eighth to give RFR three drivers in the top eight.
Kasey Kahne was ninth for Red Bull Racing and Ryan Newman was 10th for Stewart-Haas Racing.
There were no tire issues despite heavy concern when Goodyear’s product struggled through Friday’s full day of on-track action. The supplier called for almost 1,300 new right-side tires to be shipped into Bristol from North Carolina overnight, and they were distributed to teams before Saturday’s final two practice sessions.
But teams were only given one set of the new tires to use on Saturday, and everyone was scrambling to adapt to the effect the new tires had on their car.
NASCAR called a competition caution at lap 50 on Sunday to check the new tires. With no noticeable issues, the race continued with little discussion of the entire flap.