Commentary

Kyle Busch gets 'a gift' at Richmond

Updated: April 30, 2012, 2:57 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Carl Edwards was upset because a questionable penalty by NASCAR kept him from giving Tony Stewart a late run for the win. Stewart was upset because a questionable debris caution by the governing body with 14 laps remaining, followed by a mistake on pit road, might have cost him his third win of the season.

And then there was Kyle Busch.

He was on cloud nine on a day that began with clouds so heavy there was doubt they'd ever get in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

They did, and Busch made the most of it, following his first victory as a Nationwide Series team owner Friday night with his first Cup victory of 2012, his fourth straight in the spring race at RIR.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images/NASCARKyle Busch, front, smoked Tony Stewart on the final restart with nine laps to go.

For him, life is sweet.

But as much as this weekend was about Busch in the win column and letting the stock car world know he'll be a factor for the title, this night was about drama and controversy, something the sport has lacked with now three straight weeks without a multicar wreck.

If you're counting, that is more than 1,200 miles.

Fans will be screaming about Edwards' penalty for jumping a restart and the final caution for what Stewart called a water bottle -- NASCAR said it was sheet metal in Turn 3 -- over the next couple of days. They'll be the same ones who were screaming there hadn't been enough drama after two straight weeks without wrecks or controversy.

But without either, they'd be screaming this was another boring race.

You can't have it both ways.

Busch really doesn't care about the drama. He's been running away from it since last fall at Texas when he was benched for a Nationwide and Cup race following an incident with Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck series, after which primary sponsor M&M's opted not to be on his car for the final two Cup races.

He feared he might lose his job. It rightfully scared him.

Busch learned to handle things more like Edwards handled the pass-through penalty that might have cost him a victory Saturday after he led a race-high 206 laps.

Instead of throwing a tantrum, Edwards calmly made his case to NASCAR. He argued that NASCAR told his spotter he was the leader and that he thought officials made a mistake lining him up on the outside of Stewart. He argued that he simply was trying to get the best start he could because of the disadvantage the mistake put him in.

Then he disappeared into the darkness.

"I'd rather not say what was said in there," Edwards said after meeting with NASCAR following the race. "This whole thing is very frustrating. I don't feel like we did the wrong thing."

Good move not talking further, since nothing Edwards said was going to change the mind of NASCAR's Robin Pemberton, who made it clear postrace that Stewart was the leader and Edwards should have known that.

"[Stewart] was the leader and [Stewart] should have started the race," Pemberton said outside the NASCAR hauler. "It's really as simple as that. [Edwards] wasn't the leader."

Nothing Edwards said was going to change the outcome.

Busch, before last year's Texas incident, might have said something he lived to regret.

The same goes for Stewart after the final caution that came out with 14 laps to go. Stewart, who has learned many of the same life lessons Busch has, was visibly upset with the call. He said the alleged water bottle was "out of groove."

"It had been sitting there for eight laps," Stewart added.

I'd rather not say what was said in there. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don't feel like we did the wrong thing.

-- Carl Edwards

Maybe there was a water bottle in addition to the sheet metal officials said they saw. Regardless, the scenario tightened up the field and created some excitement with one last double-file restart for a nine-lap shootout.

Those sitting on the edge of their seats as Busch beat Stewart off pit road because Stewart's team was slow on the right rear tire weren't complaining. Those standing and cheering as Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly moved around Stewart for second and threatened for a brief moment to end his losing streak (which was extended to 138) weren't complaining.

Busch certainly wasn't complaining. He admitted he had no chance of catching Stewart without the caution, that it was "the saving grace, the luck of the day."

Earnhardt admitted he wouldn't have been in position for second without some help.

There's no denying what happened made the final laps intense, even if Earnhardt finished a full second behind.

And look at all the history that was made. Busch broke a tie with Richard Petty with his fourth consecutive victory in the spring race here. There haven't been three consecutive Cup races without a wreck since 1990.

And look at how close Earnhardt came to ending his streak, how he moved within five points of Greg Biffle for the points lead heading to a Talladega track where he could move ahead.

And look at what it means to have Busch, the driver fans love to hate, back in the spotlight.

Controversy aside, this was a good night for NASCAR. But it was an even bigger weekend for Busch. He shed rare tears after watching brother Kurt drive his No. 54 Nationwide car to a slam-bang finish over Denny Hamlin on Friday. He was filled with pure joy Saturday after ending a 20-race losing streak and giving Joe Gibbs Racing its third win of the year.

"The first thing I asked Kyle, 'OK, is it more fun winning as the car owner or a driver?'" JGR owner Joe Gibbs said. "And he was honest. He says, 'As a driver.'"

Added Busch, "I know where my priorities lie.''

As frustrated as Edwards and Stewart were, Busch was equally elated.

"It was a gift," Busch said of the circumstances that put him in position to win.

Or, if you're Edwards or Stewart, maybe it was a mugging.

Either way you look at it, there was drama.

And NASCAR thrives on drama.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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