BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tony Stewart should have won the race. And when he didn't, Denny Hamlin got a clear shot at victory.
But the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers failed to seal the deal — again — Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, and Jeff Burton and his Richard Childress Racing teammates capitalized.
Burton scored his first Bristol victory in Sprint Cup, leading teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer to the first 1-2-3 sweep in RCR history by pouncing when the JGR drivers faltered at the very end.
"We did the little things right," Burton said. "That's the sign that this team's matured. That's the sign of a team that's ready to take advantage of situations. I won't lose sleep tonight because somebody says, 'We had a faster car.'
"All I know is we've got the trophy."
A year ago, Stewart and Hamlin combined to lead 434 of the 504 laps here before mechanical failures sabotaged seemingly surefire wins.
This time, Stewart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch combined to lead 372 of 506 laps, but Hamlin's sixth-place finish was all Joe Gibbs Racing had to show for it.
Busch's power steering failed, causing him to crash while leading midway through the Food City 500. Then Harvick wrecked Stewart with two laps to go, setting up a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.
All Hamlin had to do was hold on for two laps and the win was his. But a fuel-pickup problem on the restart allowed Burton to pass and pull his RCR teammates along for the sweep.
"It's just a shame. We had another win taken away," said Hamlin, who was born in Brandon. "Our cars just won't pick up fuel. Everyone else's does. It cost us the race. I could have held those guys off, as fast as the car went after it picked back up.
"This is so frustrating to have days like this."
Stewart led a race-high 267 laps — 10 more than last year — but again fell short because of questionable strategy and the contact with Harvick.
Stewart led when Brian Vickers' crash caused a caution with 11 laps to go. Stewart thought he should pit for tires, but was overruled by crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who wasn't sure there were enough laps left to warrant coming in.
So Stewart stayed out — with Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — as everyone else on the lead lap headed to the pits. Zipadelli instantly questioned the call.
"I don't know if that was right or wrong," he radioed Stewart, "but it's in your hands now."
Stewart was great on the restart with five laps to go, but Hamlin quickly chased him down and moved into first. Harvick, who restarted fourth with fresh tires, also closed quickly on Stewart's bumper. But as Harvick moved in for the pass, the cars made contact and Stewart went spinning into the wall.
"I just lost it there underneath of Tony. Just made a mistake," Harvick said. "They can take it for what it's worth, and move on."
Stewart, who finished 14th, was livid on his radio after the accident but had calmed by the time he climbed from his car and was taking partial responsibility for the contact.
"I thought I left him enough room," Stewart said. "I'm sure somehow it was my fault. I'm sorry I got in his way."
The two are terrific friends off the track, and, ironically, are scheduled to appear together on Stewart's Sirius Satellite Radio program tonight when Stewart is supposed to have his back waxed for charity.
Any anger between the two should subside before the show, but Harvick might have a lingering beef with Stewart's spotter. After the accident, Harvick said he sent his spotter to apologize to Stewart's, but the exchange quickly turned ugly.
"The first thing his spotter did was say he was going to whip somebody's (behind) and if Tony didn't do it, then he was going to do it," Harvick said. "If his spotter wants to have a bad attitude about it, then we can all come down here and we'll handle it."
Burton was the benefactor of all the action, sliding past Harvick and Stewart when the two made contact to move into second place. The wreck brought out a caution that led to the two-lap overtime sprint to the finish, with Hamlin out front.
Then when Hamlin's car failed to take off on the restart, Burton raced past him on the high side of the 0.533-mile bullring.