If there's a lesson to be learned from Saturday night's race at Richmond, it's a time-honored one in NASCAR: careful what you wish for; you just might get it.
After two straight weeks of dull, almost drama-free racing, NASCAR controversy returned in full force at Richmond, potentially robbing two of the sport's most notable drivers of victories. In the end, however, it was Kyle Busch, once again, who took the checkers in the Capital City 400.
The victory brings to an end an ugly streak for Busch that dates back to last fall's suspension, and it comes at one of Busch's very finest tracks. Busch has now won the last four spring races at Richmond, breaking a tie with Richard Petty, who won three from 1971 to 1973. Busch has recorded 13 top 10 finishes in 15 races run at Richmond.
Unlike several of his Richmond races, Busch wasn't the dominant car on Saturday evening. But he ran well exactly when he needed to, and he was in position to take advantage of two highly controversial NASCAR decisions.
A restart that saw Carl Edwards get an early jump and a subsequent black flag took out the best driver of the night. But it was the late-race caution that raised the ire of the second-best driver, one Tony Stewart.
On TV cameras, Stewart waved a plastic bottle, mocking the "debris" that brought out a caution with less than 15 laps remaining. (Of note, TV cameras couldn't find the "debris" on either of the two cautions that were for track obstructions.)
Stewart had been dominating the race after Edwards' penalty, and appeared headed for an easy victory until the caution flag flew. But the restart allowed Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to slip past Stewart with little trouble ... and Stewart had little trouble sharing his feelings on the validity of the caution.
"It was out of the groove," Stewart said of the water bottle afterward, according to the AP's Jenna Fryer. "It had been sitting there for eight laps."
And that right there is the problem that NASCAR faces when trying to manufacture drama. When both your race winner and your third-place finisher are questioning the need for a caution, something's up. Clearly, the last thing NASCAR wanted was yet another green flag to the finish, but by throwing out a phantom caution it only added to the perception that the sport is not above creating a little action when none exists.
Still, for the 18 team, a win is a win, and the victory helps reestablish Busch as one of the sport's premier drivers ... if not its smoothest. "What up, boys? We back!" he crowed. "Hell to the yeah!" And it sounded every bit as painful as it reads. But it was a victory, and on Saturday night, that was just fine with Kyle.