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
"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
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
"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
It didn't sound that way on Gordon's channel.
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
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.
Both drivers could have spun Busch to get past him, and the 21-year-old appreciated the veterans for racing him clean.
"Without Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton behind me, I never would
have won this race," Busch said.
Burton didn't regret it.
"I could have used the bumper to move him out of the way and
win the race, but I didn't want to," Burton said. "I can lay in
bed tonight and wonder, 'What if?' But that's what I chose to do.
If you can't pass him without knocking him out of the way, do the
best you can. He's driven me clean, and that's what I did with
Gordon, the polesitter, wound up third and was thrilled with the
effort after struggling for most of the race.
"That's an awesome win for him," Gordon said. "I wanted to
race with him. I got a run on the inside and I knew Burton was
going to get a run on the outside and I knew I was in trouble, so I
just tried to hold onto third."
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 COT 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.
It's introduction had teams fretting for months over performance
and the many unknowns the COT 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
And the worst fears -- that the track would be littered with
parts and pieces everytime one of them wrecked -- never developed.
"From the tower, I thought it was a good race," NASCAR
competition director Robin Pemberton said. "I think you saw there
were more competitors up front who had been there in recent
history, or teams that aren't used to running in the top 10 or 15.
"There were people concerned with the splitter hitting the race
track and all kinds of nightmarish things, you saw there were no
problems with that. We were pleased."
But the fifth-place car of Greg Biffle was too low in
inspection, and 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 COT race to
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
The drivers, meanwhile, said it's too early to pass judgment on
the COT. Martinsville is another short track, and the COT gets its
first true test next month in Phoenix.
"If the car is safer and races better, then I am all for it,"
Gordon said. "But we can't answer that question this weekend."
Smith finished 25th and Martin dropped to eighth in the
standings -- 162 back. Gordon leads Burton by three points.
As expected, Juan Pablo Montoya struggled at his first short
track, finishing 32nd after an early spin dropped him several laps
down. But he still considered the day a success.
"We got the car home and scored some more points and just go on
to the next one," he said. "It was pretty easy, to be honest."
A.J. Allmendinger, the former Champ Car star, also struggled. He
was 40th in his Nextel Cup debut.
"You know, I used to think Champ Car was tough to drive,"
Allmendinger said. "But do 500 laps around this place. That's a
lot of work."
The race initially belonged to Tony Stewart, who pulled away to
a huge lead during the 257 laps he was out front. But his Chevrolet
lost power during a caution with 211 laps to go, and he was livid
as he pulled into the pits.
He bemoaned his bad luck in an expletive-laden rant as his Joe
Gibbs Racing team worked under the hood of his car. He returned to
the track 23 laps down.
Kasey Kahne, who ran in the top five for the first half of the
race, spun out moments before Stewart went out to take himself out
of the competition.
With the two best cars out of the running, the race opened up
for everyone else. Busch and Hamlin traded the lead several times
until traffic allowed Busch to get by him for good.