Earnhardt Power Surge

After a second place finish at Richmond. Junior Nation finds itself just five points arrears of championship leader Greg Biffle headed to Talladega. Junior has recorded five consecutive Top 10 finishes and seven overall in 2012(photo courtesy: Jeff Zelevansky, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

By all accounts, it appeared that reigning NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and 2011 championship runner-up Carl Edwards were set to win at Richmond. But a late-race penalty to Edwards and a debris caution with 13 laps remaining allowed Kyle Busch to pull away for his 24th career victory after winning Race 9 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 1. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Taking advantage of rapid pit work on his final stop, Busch surged into the lead with nine laps to go at Richmond to win his fourth consecutive spring race at RIR and record his first victory of 2012. In winning four races in a row, Busch breaks a tie with “The King” Richard Petty, who accomplished the feat between 1971 and 1973. The victory snapped a 20-race winless streak for Busch, and came a day after he went to Victory Lane for the first time as a Nationwide Series team owner. Kurt Busch drove the No. 54 car to its first victory Friday night.

"It's definitely pretty special any time you're tied for a record with Richard Petty or you're able to break a record with that guy," Busch said. "He's just a class act."

“This was a gift, and I don’t know where it came from,” the youngest Busch said. “During much of the race, we were just trying to keep ourselves in position, and we did what we needed to do to stay in the top-five.” 

According to Busch, he could not have caught Stewart without the late-race slowdown. “At that point, I was trying to pressure him but my car started getting tight. Once I couldn’t see him anymore, I was just trying to make it to the end.”

As Busch celebrated his first Sprint Cup Series win of the season, Stewart and Edwards both believed the win was taken from them.

Stewart was upset because a caution for debris — he claimed it was for a bottle of soda or water that wasn't an on-track hindrance — erased his lead with 13 laps remaining. He led the leaders down pit road for a final stop, and Busch beat him back onto the track.

"When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it's hard to feel good losing that one," Stewart said. "And we gave it away on pit road. So, we did everything we could to throw it away, got taken away from us."

Edwards, who led a race-high 206 laps, thought the same thing after NASCAR penalized him for jumping the restart with 81 laps remaining.

Edwards lined up next to Stewart for the restart, and his spotter had told the driver of the No. 99 car that he was the leader. But NASCAR said Stewart was the leader, and when Edwards sailed past him on the restart, NASCAR threw the black flag.

NASCAR eventually clarified that Stewart was the leader, but Edwards left too early.

Edwards, who ultimately finished 10th, watched a replay of the start and insisted his spotter had been told by NASCAR he was restarting the race as the leader.

"I thought NASCAR made a mistake, they lined us up wrong, and I was at a disadvantage being on the outside," Edwards said. "So I thought, `I'm getting the best start I can get right now. I got the best start I could get, looks like Tony waited or spun his tires, so they black-flagged me.

"I still don't understand why they black-flagged me."

NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., grabbed second place in the closing laps to finish 1.095 seconds behind Busch. “I am happy with second place as we had about a fifth-place car,” he said. “I was lucky on that last restart to gain a couple of extra spots. We were terrible here last year, and I really like running here, so I was curious as to why we weren’t performing as well. So it feels good to run all right here (again).”

Sprint Cup Series point leader Greg Biffle finished 18th.In the point standings, Biffle leads by five over Earnhardt and by nine over Denny Hamlin. Matt Kenseth is in fourth (-10) ahead of Martin Truex Jr. (-22), Jimmie Johnson (-24), Kevin Harvick (-25), Stewart (-31), Edwards (-51) and Ryan Newman (-60). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 1. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Talladega on Sunday, May 6 (Noon. ET, Fox TV, MRN Radio) —Race 10 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 1. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
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