- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When the victim is Kyle Busch, driving rough to win can make a hero of a guy in a hurry.
Carl Edwards brought the loudest cheer on Saturday night from the 160,000-plus at Bristol Motor Speedway when he took out Busch during the cooldown lap after winning the Sharpie 500.
Busch drove alongside Edwards and whacked him door-to-door a few times after the race was over. Then Edwards slowed down even more, let Busch pass until his right-rear quarter panel was exposed, then whacked him and sent him spinning. The crowd then rose to its feet in thunderous cheers.
Busch dominated the race for 415 straight laps, but with 30 laps to go Edwards drove up on Busch's bumper in the first turn, unabashedly knocked him up the track, and drove under, into the lead for good.
Asked in Victory Lane whether his car had gotten quicker at the end or Busch's had gotten slower, Edwards cut to the chase.
The winning edge was that "I just kinda ran into him," Edwards acknowledged.
It was the second week in a row Busch, the Sprint Cup leader with eight wins this season, finished second to Edwards, who ran his season total to six wins.
Edwards cheerfully described the winning move blow-by-blow.
"I went down into the corner and he slowed down a little earlier than I thought he was going to," he said. "I tried to get down underneath him and he dove pretty straight for the corner and I just bumped him a little bit."
But before that last part, it was decision time.
"The way this works is, as a real smart racer explained to me after he wrecked me and I was real mad," Edwards said. "He said, 'I just had to look at your rear bumper and decide whether you'd do this to me. And you had before, so it was a real simple decision.'
"Earlier in the year we had a Nationwide race [at Richmond, Va.] and Kyle was a lot faster than me, and he went ahead and got to my back bumper, and just smoked the back bumper of my car, sent me up the racetrack, and afterward said, 'Sorry, man, my car was just faster.'
"So I had to ask myself when I went down into the corner, 'Should I lift and brake early and do the best I can, or should I give him a little tap and see what happens?'
"So that's the way it went, that's the decision I made, and I'd do it again."
Did it cut any ice with Busch that Edwards admitted everything so openly?
"No, because he does that and he'll always come back and say he's sorry," Busch said, after team owner Joe Gibbs rushed into the postrace news conference and whispered intensely in Busch's ear, clearly admonishing him to keep his cool.
"That's just his normal fashion," Busch said. "And so that's fine. I've grown to know that now.
"To pass a guy, to hit him in the corner and chatter his rear tires, is what he did. I tried to get him back but thought better of it. I tried to pull down and pass him back, but I just didn't have a good enough car to stick."
Down the backstretch, Edwards said, "he bumped me the same way but I'd already committed to the top so it didn't hurt us as bad."
Busch was discombobulated just long enough for Denny Hamlin to drive up alongside him and pass. Busch wound up winning the duel for second place, but the time, effort and tire grip expended on Hamlin left Busch with no chance of catching Edwards at the end.
That is, until Edwards slowed down after the checkered flag and the postrace dustup occurred.
Busch, asked if he anticipated any penalty from NASCAR for initiating the postrace rough stuff, said, "I couldn't tell you. That's NASCAR's decision. ... I just got into him a little bit and let him know I didn't appreciate the way he pasted me. And he retaliated and ended up spinning me out. So I couldn't tell you."
Edwards had no problem with the cooldown lap action.
"He's mad, and I can completely empathize with his anger," Edwards said. "I probably would have done the exact same thing."
Until there were 30 laps to go, Busch seemed to be sailing to the most dominant performance here since Cale Yarborough led 495 laps in 1977, and the third most overwhelming run ever here. Yarborough led all 500 laps in '73.
Busch was hurtling headlong toward leading a total of 447 laps. Edwards led the first 53 off the pole, but after Busch passed him the first time, Rowdy checked out.
Twice in midrace Edwards caught and challenged Busch, but fell back both times. Busch appeared to be toying with him, to get him to heat up his tires.
"It was all going fine there until the end," Busch said. "The thing was flawless, man, for a long time there. On those long runs we could just check out and get through traffic ... it was a very cool car to have, and be able to do that with."
Until the moment Edwards made his decision whether to play rough or not, and endeared himself at notorious Bristol.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
15dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information