Bristol: Kyle Busch saved his season Saturday night by winning a gutsy side-by-side sprint to the finish against Mark Martin at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Fighting hard for a berth in the Chase for the championship, Busch drove a steady and smooth race at one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR to climb off the ropes and keep his title hopes alive. His fourth win of the season — tied with Martin for most in the Sprint Cup Series — jumped him two spots in the standings to 13th.
With two races to go before the 12-driver field is set, Busch trails 13th-place driver Matt Kenseth by just 34 points.
“No pressure on us yet!” his team radioed after he crossed the finish line. “This 18 is not going down without a fight!”
Busch was silent for a few seconds before celebrating with a smokey burnout on the frontstretch and his traditional bow to the crowd. He then grabbed the checkered flag from a NASCAR official, but gave it to a fan through a hole in the fence.
“I hope this just isn’t a fluke to get in the Chase,” he said in Victory Lane. “We need to run well at Atlanta and Richmond.”
Martin, the pole-sitter, finished second in the 1,000th start of his career. Just like Busch, he improved his Chase chances and moved up two spots to 10th.
But he could have moved Busch out of his way several times over the final 50 laps, including the dramatic four-lap sprint to the finish.
Instead, he raced him clean and defended his decision not to use his bumper on Busch.
“Anyone who thinks I was soft out there on the race track wasn’t watching,” Martin said. “I raced my guts out.”
Martin led 240 of the 500 laps, and Busch could commiserate with his bridesmaid showing.
“Mark Martin, what a class act,” Busch said. “He deserved to win this race. I’m sorry he got second.”
Marcos Ambrose was third, while Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Hamlin came back from an early tire issue to grab his finish.
Ryan Newman was sixth and was followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth.