BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch held off Mark Martin to win the Sharpie 500 Saturday night at the Bristol Motor Speedway in front of the track’s 55th straight sold-out crowd.
A four-lap shootout between Busch and Martin followed a 10-minute red-flag period started when Michael Waltrip blew a tire after contact with David Reutimann with nine laps to go. Busch and Martin battled side by side for three laps before the No. 18 pulled ahead for good on the final time down the backstretch.
Busch climbed from his car, which went untouched by Martin during their battle for the lead, with more praise for Martin and the competition than himself.
“Racing in the Sprint Cup Series with these guys is really an honor,” Busch said. “And Mark Martin, what a class act. He deserved to win this race.
“We didn’t have the best car tonight, but we had a car capable enough of doing it if I drove it hard enough.”
The same upbeat Busch appeared from his car in Victory Lane as did Wednesday after a Truck Series win, also at Bristol. Busch’s crew chief Steve Addington was feeling the same vibe as his team inched closer to the Race to the Chase cutoff line with the win.
Addington said that even during Busch’s slump, which saw last season’s top seed in the Chase finish outside of the top 10 in 10 out of the series’ last 13 races, he never doubted the team’s potential to win.
“That guy sitting behind that steering wheel right there is the man,” Addington said of his driver. “We’ve just got to get back on our track with giving him what he needs to win races. We’ll get this M&Ms Toyota in the Chase on way or another.”.
Rookie Marcos Ambrose finished third, Greg Biffle fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell from fifth to finish ninth in the final four laps.
Eleven yellow flags waved at Bristol for a total of 75 laps, with five caution periods occurring after lap 400 of the 500 scheduled. Rain threatened to stall the race after causing the race’s penultimate caution, but storms held off long enough for Busch to hand the checkered flag to a fan and do a reverse-direction victory lap.
Shaking up the points battle were Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, who struggled through radio problems and poor pit stops, respectively. Stewart remains ahead of Johnson by 220 points.
Busch’s victory brought him to 33 points outside the Chase cutoff. After being involved in two separate incidents, Clint Bowyer’s Chase hopes were dashed.