Carl Edwards rolled to a dominating win at Phoenix International Speedway that temporarily staved off Kyle Busch‘s bid to clinch the Nationwide Series title.
Busch’s first NASCAR championship is still a near-certainty — he only needs to start next week’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to grab the title.
But early problems Saturday spoiled Busch’s bid to get it out of the way. He spun his Toyota eight laps into the race, suffered heavy damage when he hit the wall, and had to battle to a ninth-place finish.
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It wasn’t enough, thought, as Edwards picked up bonuses for leading the most laps and winning the race to put a halt to the celebration.
“I know Kyle’s almost clinched the championship, but that’s what we came here to do, win the race,” Edwards said.
The race was marked by yet another run-in between rivals Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski during a late sequence of hard racing. Both were inside the top five when Hamlin tapped into Keselowski, who retaliated by hitting Hamlin twice. The second contact caused Hamlin to spin.
The running feud had many believing their would be post-race fireworks.
“I got out of my car as quick as I could, I thought we would see some action,” second-place finisher Kevin Harvick said.
Nothing happened as Hamlin drove by Keselowski’s parked car on pit road. But in a post-race interview, he warned he’ll be looking for Keselowski in next weekend’s finale.
“I can sit here and bash him for the next 20 seconds or so and give you all a bunch of soundbites, but I’m just happy that I signed up for next week’s Nationwide race,” Hamlin said. “There’s a lot of guys that owe him. There’s a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they’re going to cash in.
“I’m just going to be the first to the pay window.”
That could be bad news for fifth-place finisher Keselowski, who is trying to catch Edwards for second in the Nationwide standings. Asked if NASCAR needs to step in to temper the escalating tension between the two drivers, Hamlin declined.
“Nah, I’ll take care of him,” he said. “I got it.”
Keselowski, as usual, downplayed the incident and said he has no beef with Hamlin. It’s a pattern he’s repeated consistently after each of their run-ins: Hamlin gets angry, and Keselowski acts as if he doesn’t care.
“Denny got into the back of me and pushed me up the track, I was going to return the favor,” Keselowski said. “When he did it to me, I saved it. When I did it to him, he didn’t save it. We just got in a pushing match. I don’t hold any grudges. Whatever. It’s just the way racing is, I guess.”