HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch was running out front with three laps to go when things really got interesting.
First, a frightening crash that seemed intentional between two feuding drivers.
Then, another spinning, slamming melee before the white flag came out.
"We've got to win this race three times, maybe even four times," a frustrated Busch said on his radio.
Not to worry.
Busch survived a couple of overtime restarts and 16 extra laps to win again Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a race marred by accusations that Carl Edwards purposely wrecked Brad Keselowski's car, sending it hurtling toward the main stands upside down.
Busch won the spring race at the 1.54-mile trioval for the second year in a row, beating Matt Kenseth to the line by 0.482 seconds in the Kobalt Tools 500. Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard.
"The deuce is back, baby!" Busch said after his No. 2 Dodge took the checkered flag.
The race went 341 laps instead of its scheduled 325 because of two big crashes near the end. The first one drew the most attention.
Edwards, running 156 laps behind, clipped Keselowski and caused his car to spin then lift into the air at nearly 190 mph on the frontstretch. The car smashed into the barrier in front of the stands, landed on its roof, righted itself then slid into the wall. Keselowski was okay, but NASCAR ordered Edwards to park his car and summoned him to its trailer.
"That's not cool," Keselowski said. "He could have killed someone in the grandstands."
NASCAR put off a decision on whether to discipline Edwards until at least today.
On the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, another crash took out seven cars coming through Turns 3 and 4. Finally, they got in two clean laps, and it was Busch all the way for his third career win in Atlanta.
"You have to adjust to whatever circumstances there are to win these races," said Busch, who claimed his 21st victory overall and snapped Jimmie Johnson's two-race winning streak. "I felt we won the race outright (Sunday)."
Busch claimed his first win with crew chief Steve Addington, who joined Penske Racing in the offseason after guiding Busch's brother Kyle to 12 victories in 2008 and 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing.
As for Keselowki and Edwards, they were involved in a spectacular crash while racing for the win last year at Talladega. Edwards' car flew up toward the stands, ripping out the fencing, and Keselowski sped past for the victory.
Early in Sunday's race, the two ran into more trouble. Keselowski nicked Edwards coming through the turn, which sent him crashing into Joey Logano. Edwards spent much of the day in the garage but returned to take out his frustration in what appeared to be an intentional tap on Keselowski.
"Brad knows the deal between him and I," Edwards said. "The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not what I expected at all."
Busch was quick to come to the defense of Keselowski, his Penske teammate: "To see a guy that's a hundred laps down take out a guy that's run really well—that was a tough pill to swallow. … When Roger Penske's stuff is torn up, I feel bad about it."
Johnson, the four-time defending Sprint Cup champion, was coming off wins at California and Las Vegas. He climbed into contention again, getting as high as third, but a bad pit stop and a scrape with Ryan Newman cost him a chance to become the first driver since 2007 to make it three in a row. He finished 12th.
Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost the lead on the first lap then survived several mishaps to finish 15th. His winless streak is now 61 races. "We weren't very good," he said. "It felt like the damn wheels were coming off."