Carl Edwards won Saturday's Able Body Labor 200 to postpone Kyle Busch's formal Nationwide Series championship clinching party for one week.
But Busch still had cause for celebration. With a 190-point lead entering next Saturday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch needs merely to start the Ford 300 to claim his first title in one of NASCAR's top three national touring series.
Saturday's race also fanned the smoldering rivalry between polesitter Denny Hamlin and fifth-place finisher Brad Keselowski into full flame. The drivers traded shots with their cars after a restart on lap 157, with Keselowski spinning Hamlin's Toyota in turn one to bring out the sixth and final caution of the race.
"That's 25 -- 25 (career Nationwide) wins," said Edwards, who beat runner-up Kevin Harvick to the finish line by 2.415 seconds. "I know Kyle's almost clinched the championship, but that's what we came here to do, to win this race."
Reed Sorenson ran third in Todd Braun's #32 Toyota, followed by Clint Bowyer and Keselowski.
Busch's clinching prospects were in jeopardy early in the race, after he spun the #18 Toyota off turn two in front of Clint Bowyer's #29 Chevrolet on lap seven. Busch tagged the outside wall with the right rear of his car and the inside wall with the left front.
Busch's team worked on the car on pit road and got Busch back on the track before he lost a lap. After restarting 35th, Busch worked his way to twelfth in the running order by lap 30 of 200. Busch ran as high as fourth before the final caution but faded to ninth at the finish.
With Edwards winning and leading the most laps, Busch needed to finish seventh or better to lock up the title.
Asked about the early-race spin, Busch gave a terse explanation.
"I was driving a bucket of (expletive)," he said.
Keselowski and Hamlin had a lot more to say after the race, thanks to the lap 157 incident that started with Hamlin bumping Keselowski and ducking beneath him. Keselowski retaliated in the corner and turned Hamlin's #20 Toyota.
Hamlin kept the car off the wall but had to pit and restarted at the back of the field on lap 164. He finished twelfth.
"On the last restart there, Denny got into the back of me and pushed me up the track," Keselowski said. "I was going to return the favour. When he did it to me, I saved it. When I did it to him, he didn't save it. We just got into a pushing match. I don't really don't hold any grudges. I don't know why he wanted to do that. But whatever, that's just how racing, is I guess.
"To me, I was over it. I'm focused on running the #88 Junior Motorsports car and trying to run up front, chase down Carl (for second in the standings) and finish second in points. I haven't put a lot of thought into (the rivalry), but apparently he has."
Hamlin implied he'd have a shot at revenge in next Saturday's race.
"I can sit here and bash him for the next 20 seconds or so and give you all a bunch of sound bites," Hamlin said, "but I'm just happy that I signed up for next week's Nationwide race, and you know in turn, there's a lot of guys that owe him. There's a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they're going to cash in, I'm just going to be the first to the pay window.''
Later on, after Hamlin spoke to NASCAR president Mike Helton, the two drivers had what USA Today
reporter Nate Ryan described as an animated but civil discussion.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News