BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Jeff Burton raced past Denny Hamlin on a two-lap sprint to the finish Sunday and Richard Childress Racing swept the top three positions in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway after three drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the race.
Burton scored his first win at Bristol and the first Nascar Sprint Cup victory of the season for Chevrolet. He led his teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer across the finish line in the first top-three sweep in Childress team history.
“We did the little things right,” Burton said. “That’s the sign that this team’s matured. That’s the sign of a team that’s ready to take advantage of situations. I won’t lose sleep tonight because somebody says, ‘We had a faster car.’ All I know is we’ve got the trophy.”
In sweeping the top three positions, the Childress team took control of a race that was dominated by the Gibbs drivers Tony Stewart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who combined to lead 372 of the 506 laps. Hamlin’s sixth-place finish was the best of the group.
“It’s just a shame; we had another win taken away,” said Hamlin, who blamed a fuel-pickup problem during the final restart for his loss.
“Our cars just won’t pick up fuel,” he said. “Everyone else’s does. It cost us the race. I could have held those guys off, as fast as the car went after it picked back up. This is so frustrating to have days like this.”
Stewart led a race-high 267 laps — 10 more than he did in this event last year — but again fell short. Mechanical problems ruined his chances last season; this year, he could blame questionable strategy and contact with Harvick.
Stewart was chugging along toward the victory, trying to hold off the hard-charging Harvick and Hamlin, when Brian Vickers crashed to bring out a caution with 11 laps to go. Stewart said he thought he should pit for tires, but he was overruled by his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, who was not sure there were enough laps left to warrant a tire change.
So Stewart stayed out — along with Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — while everyone else on the lead lap made a pit stop. Zipadelli soon questioned the call.
“I don’t know if that was right or wrong, but it’s in your hands now,” he told Stewart over the radio.
Stewart jumped out to a huge lead on the restart with five laps to go, but Hamlin quickly chased him down and passed him. Harvick also closed quickly on Stewart’s bumper. But as he moved in for the pass, the cars made contact and Stewart went spinning into the wall.
Stewart, who finished 14th, seemed upset on his radio after the accident but had calmed by the time he climbed from his car.
“I thought I left him enough room,” Stewart said. “I’m sure somehow it was my fault.”
The accident set up a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish, with Hamlin leading and Burton second. Burton raced past Hamlin on the high side, and his teammates followed.
Busch, the series points leader and defending race winner, had a strong car but lost his power steering shortly after moving into the lead. Unable to steer the car as it seemed headed straight for the wall, he instead navigated it into a spin that allowed him to finish the race. He came in 17th and leads Greg Biffle by 30 points in the standings.
The former series champion Dale Jarrett, who is retiring, finished 37th in what could be his final start in a points race.