By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
RICHMOND, Va. – The honeymoon at Joe Gibbs Racing may be over.
Yes, on Sunday at Richmond International Raceway, Carl Edwards won his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the Toyota Owners 400 and the fourth in a row for JGR, but he did so with a last-lap bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch, who was seeking his third victory in four events.
“We did everything right – be smart,” Busch was told on his radio, after Edwards moved the No. 18 Toyota up the track in Turns 3 and 4 and beat Busch to the finish line by .675 seconds.
Busch took the advice. No doubt seething inside at the loss of a race he seemed poised to win, he maintained radio silence.
With a superb pit stop under the eighth and final caution of the race, Busch grabbed the lead for a restart on Lap 365 of 400. He stayed out front until Edwards made up enormous ground by burying his No. 19 Camry into Turn 1 on the final lap.
Edwards applied the coup de grace in the next corner, nudging Busch out of the way to complete the first last-lap pass for the win in the history of the .75-mile track.
Edwards indicated he was willing to take more liberties with his teammate because they had both scored victories this season and are locks to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“Kyle’s an amazing teammate, and it’s like he got really slow there at the end,” Edwards said in Victory Lane. “Something happened that last lap. It was like his rear tires went off or something. He went down into (Turn) 1 and I dove it in and I got to him and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got something.’
“And he went to get down to the bottom and park it in (Turns) 3 and 4, and I had already decided to go down there, so I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to give him a little nudge.’ And we both have got wins, and we’re racing for fun getting these trophies and (it was) just an awesome day.”
“Awesome” is probably not the word the typically outspoken Busch would have chosen, but he was silent on his radio after taking the checkered flag. In his post-race interview in the media center, Busch was as non-committal as retired Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch in the locker room.
Asked whether he expected Edwards to use the bump-and-run for the win, Busch repeated a rote answer he had given to the previous question.
“Our Banfield Camry was real awesome today,” Busch said. “We had a great race car. My guys made some awesome adjustments to it. It was really good for us to have an opportunity to run and race for the win like that.”
And was Edwards’ nudge more excusable because both drivers already had wins?
“My guys give me great race cars each and every week,” Busch deadpanned. “We continue to have fast Camrys. We’ll be continuing to run up front and race for wins.”
Edwards’ pursuit of Busch over the last 36 laps was riveting, but so was the action throughout the field. The race featured 23 lead changes (most since 2007) among eight drivers, as cars came to life and faded as the track changed throughout the afternoon.
Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was strong early and late and came home third, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, who scored his first top five since the Chase race at Kansas last October.
Kevin Harvick finished fifth ahead of Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, as JGR put all four of its cars in the top seven.
Tony Stewart started 18th and finished 19th, despite suffering a cut tire, in his first race of the season after a back injury and surgery. “Smoke” was up on the wheel from the outset, and from Lap 130 to Lap 145, he waged an intense battle with Edwards in an attempt to stay on the lead lap.
“I was real happy to have him back until about five laps into that battle,” Edwards joked.
If Stewart left Richmond with a little more bounce in his step, Edwards left with fences to mend.
“We’ll talk about it,” he said of the last-lap encounter with Busch.
Team owner Joe Gibbs had to deal with divided loyalties – celebrating with one driver and commiserating with the other.
“I think when something like this happens, I don’t think there’s a game plan for it,” Gibbs said. “You have no real organized way of handling it. What you do is you start out and work your way through it. That’s what we’ll do.
“So, you know, it’s a tough thing because it’s certainly painful for one side. You’re on such a high with the other side. It’s a tough thing. What we’ll do is go to work and work our way through it.”