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’s up 190 points over Edwards and 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.
“I was driving a bucket of (junk),” Busch said when asked what happened on the accident.
It wasn’t enough, though, 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. Still recovering from a broken foot suffered in a frisbee game in September, Edwards skipped his traditional celebratory backflip and instead did a somersault.
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 there would be postrace 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’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 standings. He’s currently 60 points behind Edwards.
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.”
Long after the race had ended, Hamlin found Keselowski in the Nationwide garage and the two had a civil, but animated, discussion. Hamlin didn’t feel any better after the talk, though, and said NASCAR officials had told him they plan to speak to Keselowski on Sunday morning before the Sprint Cup Series race.
Back in the motorhome lot, Hamlin approached NASCAR president Mike Helton for a brief conversation. When they were through, Helton headed into the motorhome of Dale Earnhardt Jr., car owner for Keselowski’s Nationwide team.