Kyle Busch made a statement Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway - and so did pole-sitter Mark Martin, who pressured Busch during a four-lap run to the chequered flag of the Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500 but couldn't make the pass for the win.

Instead, Busch won for the fourth time this season and for the second time at Bristol in 2009, despite having a car Saturday night that was no better than second best.

Busch showed emphatically he is not out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picture, and Martin strengthened his hold of a spot in NASCAR's postseason. Busch moved up two positions in the standings to 13th, 34 points behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth.

Martin likewise gained two spots to tenth, 60 points ahead of Busch. The top twelve drivers after the September 12 race at Richmond qualify for the Chase.

"Mark Martin - what a class act," said Busch, who won for the 16th time in the Cup series. "He deserved to win this race. I'm sorry he came home in second. I know how he feels. I drove as hard as I could.

"He had a chance. He could have done it (moved Busch out of the way). But he didn't. He raced me clean."

Marcos Ambrose ran third, followed by Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Kurt Busch came home seventh, followed by Jimmie Johnson, who recovered from trouble on pit road to salvage a top-ten finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth, and Matt Kenseth was tenth.

Martin, who made his 1,000th start in NASCAR's top three series combined, said Busch gave him plenty of room to pass to the inside on the final four laps, but Martin's best effort wasn't quite good enough. Martin said it wasn't a case of racing Busch cleanly.

"He gave me plenty of room, and I got sideways," said Martin, who led a race-high 240 laps. "We finally got a decent finish in a great race-car. But anybody that thinks I was soft out there on the racetrack wasn't watching. I raced my guts out."

Johnson took the lead from Martin in traffic on Lap 317, as Martin was struggling to put Kasey Kahne two laps down. Johnson passed to the outside and took control of the race - temporarily.

The #48 team got Johnson out first under caution for a restart on Lap 362, and Johnson stayed out front until the seventh caution of the race on lap 421 after a light rain started falling.

A lengthy pit stop under caution on lap 423 proved Johnson's undoing, as his crew had extreme difficulty changing the right rear tyre. Johnson left the pits with the tyre loose and had to return to pit road. He fell to 22nd position for a restart on lap 432.

Kyle Busch used the opportunity to take the lead, passing Michael Waltrip, who had remained on the track during the caution, on lap 433. Busch stayed at the point through a multicar wreck on the front-stretch on lap 438 and a caution for Sam Hornish Jr.'s scrape with the wall on lap 457.

Subsequently, Busch led the field to a restart on lap 487 after contact from Jamie McMurray's Ford cut the left front tyre on Martin Truex Jr.'s Chevrolet and sent Truex into the Turn 4 wall.

Busch held Martin at bay until a violent collision involving Waltrip and Clint Bowyer brought out the 11th yellow on lap 491. With rain falling, NASCAR red-flagged the race for almost 11 minutes before the re-start with four laps to go.

by Reid Spencer


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