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With four laps to go, Robby Gordon shredded a tire to bring out the final caution flag of the race. Carl Edwards gambled as all the leaders ducked into the pits, changing only two tires so he got back on the track first.
Busch and Jeff Gordon both went with four new tires, coming out second and third behind Edwards. But the leader had no chance of holding off Busch on the two-lap finish, watching him blow by on the backstretch and cruise to his 19th career victory. Gordon also got by Edwards, who settled for third.
"That was the hand we were dealt," Edwards said. "I just wish we had four tires. Kurt did a good job. He was the fastest car all day."
Mark Martin was the fastest in qualifying, becoming the second-oldest driver in Cup history to start from the pole. But it was another rough day for the 50-year-old after blowing engines the two previous weeks. He apparently cut a tire, smashed the wall and finished 31st, 14 laps down.
Martin returned to full-time racing this season with Hendrick Motorsports in hopes of contending for his first Cup championship. But he's off to a terrible start with one of NASCAR's strongest teams, leaving Atlanta 34th in the standings.
There were huge sections of empty seats along the front stretch of the track south of Atlanta, which was no more than two-thirds filled on a warm, sunny day. Clearly, the economy is taking its toll on NASCAR's fan base.
"I'm kind of baffled by it," Gordon said.
The lack of grip in the tires led to a yawner of a race for the most part. The drivers looked as though they were more concerned with avoiding crashes than dueling each other, the 43-car field quickly spreading out all over the high-banked track. At one point, there were only nine cars on the lead lap and just 12 were there at the end.
"It reminds me of Darlington," Busch said, referring to the track that's been dubbed "too tough to tame."
"This place just chews you up and spits you out."
Until the final shootout, the most dramatic moment came on the 67th lap when a tire rolled away from Marcus Ambrose's pit box, and gas man Jimmy Watts took off after it. He ran halfway onto the grass in the quad-oval to retrieve it, a dangerous move that prompted NASCAR officials to throw a yellow flag and toss Watts out of the pits for the rest of the race.
Starting on the outside of the front row, Busch quickly raced to the front and stayed there most of the race, stretching his lead to more than 10 seconds during his most dominating run.
Busch, who found his best line along the top of the track, twice scraped the outside wall, but even that didn't slow his car, just left it in need of a paint job.
He can afford one now.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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