Kyle Busch saved his NASCAR Sprint Cup season Saturday night by winning a gutsy side-by-side sprint to the finish against Mark Martin at Bristol Motor Speedway at Bristol, Tenn.
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. 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 12th-place driver Matt Kenseth by only 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 burnout on the frontstretch and his traditional bow to the crowd.
"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. He deserved to win this race," Busch said. "I'm sorry he got second. I know how he feels. But man, I drove as hard as I could. He had a chance, could have done it, he raced me clean."
It broke a 13-race winless streak in the Cup series, which is an eternity for Busch since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing last season.
"We didn't have the best car, but had a car capable enough to do it if I can drive it hard enough," he said. "I gave it everything I had. It's crazy."
Marcos Ambrose was third, while Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. It was a mixed night for the Chase contenders. Points leader Tony Stewart had a generally miserable night as he finished 33rd. Kasey Kahne was 28th, and Carl Edwards was 16th.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 25th and fell to ninth in the standings, while four-time series champion Jeff Gordon struggled and finished 23rd.
Lewis Hamilton took the pole position for the European Grand Prix at Valencia, Spain, to lead a McLaren 1-2 in qualifying. Hamilton had a best lap of 1 minute, 39.498 seconds around the street circuit to give the defending Formula One champion his first pole of the season. Teammate Heikki Kovalainen will start today's race from the second spot.
Antron Brown raced to his sixth No. 1 qualifying position of the season in a rain-delayed day at the Toyo Tires Oil NHRA Nationals at Mohnton, Pa. Brown powered his dragster to a 3.854-second run at 315.71 mph to earn his 20th career No. 1 effort. Ashley Force Hood was the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car with a 4.114 at 301.47. In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards took his category-leading ninth No. 1 effort of the season with a 6.640 at 207.78.
Mike Johnson of Covina started from the front row and led the entire race in winning the NASCAR Auto Club Late Model 50-lap feature race at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale. It was Johnson's third consecutive victory, moving him within 48 points of Nick Joanides of Woodland Hills for the division points lead.
Chad Reed raced to his fifth victory of the season at Mechanicsville, Md., and clinched his first AMA Pro Motocross championship.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Sprint Cup standings
The top 12 drivers qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The current standings:
*--* Rk Driver Points Starts Wins Top 5 Top 10 1. Tony Stewart 3,564 24 3 13 18 2. Jimmie Johnson 3,344 24 3 9 15 3. Jeff Gordon 3,310 24 1 11 16 4. Denny Hamlin 3,141 24 1 8 12 5. Carl Edwards 3,110 24 0 7 11 6. Kurt Busch 3,103 24 1 6 13 7. Ryan Newman 2,995 24 0 5 10 8. Greg Biffle 2,986 24 0 8 11 9. Juan Montoya 2,975 24 0 1 11 10. Mark Martin 2,971 24 4 7 12 11. Kasey Kahne 2,963 24 1 4 9 12. Matt Kenseth 2,945 24 2 4 9 13. Kyle Busch 2,911 24 4 6 8 14. Brian Vickers 2,906 24 1 4 11 15. Clint Bowyer 2,833 24 0 4 10 *--*
The two races left in NASCAR's "regular season":
* Sept. 6: Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
* Sept. 12: Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) Int. Raceway.