DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Kyle Busch almost wrecked just past the midway point of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. It turned out to be a good thing he got that out of the way early.
Busch saved his No. 18 Toyota on the apron of the race track and fought his way back into contention. He then took the lead with a pass on the low side of Jeff Gordon and held on through the mayhem of a wreck-filled green-white-checkered finish.
Busch won for the second time in three races and for the sixth time this season because he was barely ahead of Carl Edwards when a caution came out for a big wreck during the two-lap dash to the checkers.
The multicar crash that finally ended it was actually the second wreck after the final restart. Just as the leaders took the green, Carl Edwards got into Jeff Gordon and sent Gordon's car down toward the entrance to pit road. As Gordon tried to refire his Chevrolet, NASCAR allowed the field to keep racing.
Edwards mounted a challenge to Busch's outside and was almost even with the leader's Toyota as the white flag flew. But Busch was just in front on the inside in Turn 1 when the big wreck broke loose, and Busch, who finished second by a whisker in this race a year ago, was a winner again
"I can't believe we're here," Busch said in Victory Lane. "We never gave up and luckily we were leading when it mattered the most."
Busch nearly crashed when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin got into the rear of his car on Lap 83. He waggled badly, but somehow got it back into shape as he dropped back through the field.
"I don't know what I did," Busch said. "That was close."
Edwards held on for second, just ahead of his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
"I was just driving as hard as I could," Edwards said of his battle for the win. "I hate to lose that thing like that. I just wish we could have raced a little longer."
Edwards didn't dispute the call.
"I saw the yellow light come on just as I was getting a run on him," Edwards said. "I was probably up to his door. I think I finished second."
Gordon wasn't mad at Edwards.
"I tried to block him and maybe I came across his nose," he said. "I am more mad at myself than anything else. I let the 18 get by me on the bottom."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. put his No. 88 Chevrolet at the front repeatedly throughout the night, and he was there for a restart after a caution for Jamie McMurray's spin turned the field loose with 27 laps to go.
Gordon, who'd been right there with his teammate for much of the night, was second. Busch was third, after taking two tires on a pit stop under yellow a few laps earlier.
When the green flag flew, Gordon jumped into the lead thanks to a push from Busch in the outside lane while Earnhardt Jr. wound up stuck on the low side. By the times the leaders got lined up, the 88 car was back in seventh.
Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, who'd recovered from an early spin to get back into the top 10, got caught up in another when Denny Hamlin's car got spun off Turn 4 on Lap 137 to bring out another yellow.
Gordon led Busch, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne to the restart on Lap 140, but just one lap later Casey Mears and Jeff Burton, who was second in the points coming in, got into the wall after getting hit as they slowed to avoid a car that got loose ahead of them off Turn 4.
That left 17 laps to choose a winner. Just after the restart, Earnhardt Jr. locked onto Busch's rear bumper and pulled into third behind Gordon.
The leaders stayed in that line until Boris Said got turned around on Lap 149, slowing things down again. It was after that restart that Busch made the key pass on Gordon, giving him the lead when a big group of cars got tangled on the backstretch on Lap 157 to set up the green-white-checkered melee.
Tony Stewart ran only the first 72 laps of the race before giving way to a relief driver because he was suffering from flu-like symptoms. J.J. Yeley took over for Stewart and finished in 20th.
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