DAYTONA BEACH — Kyle Busch had to wait for his spotter to radio him the results of the Coke Zero 400 last year, and didn't much like the results. Jamie McMurray had beaten him to the line by 0.005 seconds.
So he was prepared for the sting, but hopeful that video had captured an image of him inches ahead of Carl Edwards when a caution flew Saturday night, freezing the field during a green-white-checkered finish at Daytona International Speedway.
"I think it's ours," called his spotter. "We were out front. Is it ours?"
"I don't know," crew chief Steve Addington said. "They are looking at it. I don't know."
This time Busch got it.
The Sprint Cup points leader took advantage of a mistake by Jeff Gordon with three laps left, then won a fender-to-fender duel with Edwards when a wreck occurred during the overtime to claim his sixth Sprint Cup win this year and first Cup victory at Daytona.
Edwards finished second, followed by Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
"When I did see the yellow light come on I could barely see the nose of (Edwards' car) on my right front fender," Kyle Busch said. "I know how Carl feels for sure."
Edwards restarted third, but spun Gordon when Gordon chopped down on him at the restart; then Edwards began reeling in Busch. They reached the flagstand for the final lap deadlocked, but when a wreck in Turn 1 prompted the final caution, video replay was needed to set the final results.
"I was just driving as hard as I could," Edwards said. "I hate to lose that thing like that. (Busch's) brother was behind me, so I counted on a real good finish."
It's likely disconcerting enough for his competitors that Busch has won a third of the 18 Sprint Cup races of the season and 60 bonus points to pad his score entering the Chase for the Championship in September. But this wasn't the daring, petulant 23-year-old who has in the past been willing to gamble for the smallest of gains.
"You just had to keep a cool head tonight," Busch said. "I stayed in line because I knew if I tried something I would have wrecked."
Busch slid down on the apron after an incident with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin earlier, worked back through the field with a car he admitted was at best second to Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet. And then Busch stalked. He restarted second after a pit sequence with 24 laps remaining and stayed there until Gordon allowed him to spring.
Gordon led twice for 46 laps but Busch hunkered on his bumper for most of them.
Usually a bold mover, he was uncharacteristically patient, taking advantage of a Gordon mistake to slink into the lead on Lap 157 of a scheduled 160. Gordon, seeking his first victory of the season, allowed Busch to sneak underneath him for the lead when he swung high to block Kenseth just as a multicar melee occurred behind them.
"He didn't come back down soon enough," Busch said. "You can't maneuver these cars like you could the old one. We got the break there where we got the lead for the caution and then we were able to lead the restart."
The field froze under caution and Busch led for good.
"God dang it I screwed up," Gordon said over his team radio as he circled under caution. "I should have stayed on the bottom."
The impact of the mistake was compounded when Gordon ducked down into Edwards on the restart, sliding onto the apron and finishing 30th.
The race, quickly paced early as drivers bided their time and drove carefully in the slick summer conditions, became a dicey affair in the final 50 laps.
Brant James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804.