FONTANA, Calif. -- Kyle Busch became the youngest winner in
NASCAR's top series Sunday night, a feat that was almost an
afterthought with most of the focus on the battle for the final
spots in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
At the end of Sony HD 500, the bottom of the top 10 in the
Nextel Cup point standings was shaken up, with Matt Kenseth and
Jamie McMurray in and Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon out with only one
more race before the start of the 10-man, 10-race finale.
NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. was officially eliminated
from "The Chase for the Championship" when the engine in his
Chevrolet blew up on lap 211.
"That's the end of our Chase," he said. "We've stunk all year.
We haven't had a good year. I'm surprised you all are
That didn't bother the 20-year-old Busch, the brother of
reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, as he celebrated his breakthrough
victory at California Speedway.
"It's unbelievable," said the rookie whose previous best
finishes were seconds this year in Las Vegas and Dover, Del. "We should
have been here at least five times this year, but we haven't been
able to close the deal."
The previous youngest winner was Donald Thomas, who was four
days older than Busch when he won in Atlanta in November 1952.
Driving a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Busch led 95 laps on the way to the victory in his 31st career start.
Busch was leading on lap 240 when debris brought out the 10th of
11 cautions in the race. With the race scheduled to end on lap 250,
Busch faked as if he was going to pit on lap 241 and, when all the
other leaders followed, he went ahead and pitted.
His crew put on only two tires and Busch was able to beat
everyone else back onto the track and hold the lead to the end.
"My nerves were getting to me," Busch said. "When I made that last pit stop [under caution], everybody followed me in and I
thought, 'Cool, we're going to be all right.' That stop is what got
us the win."
While Busch took control late in the race that was extended to
254 laps because of a caution period, the battle within a battle
was raging for positions in the standings.
Only the top 10 drivers in the points following next Saturday
night's race at Richmond, Va., will be eligible to contend for the
championship during the last 10 races of the season.
Busch, driving a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, led 95 laps
on the way to the victory in his 31st career start. But the focus
throughout the long night was on the contenders for the Chase for
Kenseth, coming off his first victory of the season last week in
Bristol, Tenn., had another strong night, finishing seventh. He has
charged from 17th in the points following the Pocono race July 24.
Edwards solidified his spot in the top 10, remaining eighth and
all but clinching a spot, while Kenseth moved to ninth, 10 points
ahead of McMurray, who is one point ahead of Newman and 30 in front
of Gordon, who began the night in 10th.
Going into Richmond, the final lineup for the Chase remains
unsettled, with only 62 points separating eighth-place Kenseth from
13th-place Elliott Sadler.
A crash on lap 247, involving Robby Gordon, Scott Riggs, Scott
Wimmer, Jeff Burton and Sterling Marlin gave Biffle one last shot
at Busch, but he was unable to challenge the youngster after the
green flag waved for a two-lap shootout on lap 253 -- three laps
after the scheduled finish.
"Kyle got a great restart," Biffle said. "Great job by those
guys tonight. They deserve it."
Busch came close to winning earlier this year, finishing second in Las Vegas and Dover, Del.
Jeff Gordon, who struggled throughout, appeared to finally get back
into contention when he got into the top 10 late in the race. But a
handling problem sent the three-time California winner reeling from
10th on a restart on lap 216 to a 21st-place finish.
"It's just one of those nights," he said. "It was pathetic.
We'll go to Richmond and see what we can do. It doesn't matter
right now [where we race]. Everywhere we go, we either stink or
we're good. Apparently what we've done in the past doesn't mean
anything right now."
Newman also was disappointed with his 18th-place finish.
"We're still alive now," he said. "We've got our heads just
barely below water. We've got a chance to come up for a breath of
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.