However, Earnhardt was quick to add that he didn't think he could have changed the result even without the last-minute issue: "Even with the brakes working, I think the #18 was just a little bit better than us all night."
"I don't know where that last caution came from, but it was our saving grace," said Kyle Busch in victory lane. "It was a gift. We came down pit road and Dave Rogers and the guys went to work and gave us a great pit stop, got me out front ... That was the win right there.
"No catching Stewart without that caution," Busch admitted. "I was losing half a tenth to a tenth on every lap to what Tony was doing up there. He was just so fast ... I hate it for him that we had a caution like that. He deserved to win the race."
Stewart was indeed clearly unhappy with the way that the race victory had slipped through his fingers when it had been all-but assured: "When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it's hard to feel good about losing that one," he said.
Stewart's competition director Greg Zipadelli sympathised with his boss's evident disappointment. "He's got the right [to be] because he drove his ass off. Nobody gave him anything. He started in the back, qualified [in 22nd] and worked his tail off and passed a lot of race cars," he said. "It's a shame that when you're that good, a caution comes out with [12 laps] to go and changes the outcome of the race because of circumstances."
But for Busch, it was a wonderful end to a successful weekend at Richmond, coming on top of his maiden win as a nationwide Series team owner the previous night, watching from pit road as his brother Kurt had raced to victory. On the whole, Richmond is the place to be this week if your surname is 'Busch'.
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Greg Biffle continues to lead but now by just five points over this season's surprising Mr Consistency so far, second-place man Dale Earnhardt Jr. Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth also continue to run the leader close, while a poor Richmond for Martin Truex Jr. drops him back three spots this week. Tony Stewart is in eighth place in the standings just ahead of Carl Edwards, while race winner Kyle Busch climbs two places in the positions to 11th.
Full race results and championship standings