AP Motorsports Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kurt Busch worked his magic again at Bristol Motor Speedway, winning his third straight NASCAR Nextel Cup race and fourth in the last five tries on the half-mile oval.
Not even a mysterious engine problem and an error in judgment by the driver himself could keep Busch from winning Sunday on his favorite track.
Busch angered crew chief Jimmy Fennig when he made a last-second decision to pass up a tire change with the other leaders under caution 119 laps from the end of the 500-lap race. That put him in the lead for the first time in the race and Busch somehow made his worn tires last, holding off frustrated Rusty Wallace to the end.
"This one by far has got to be the sweetest because of what we had to overcome," Busch said of his victories here, nearly half of his career total of nine. "Our engine had about 1,000 RPM less all day today ... and I just couldn't get the car to handle right. It's just unreal."
Busch, who said before the race that winning at Bristol always takes some luck, acknowledged he had plenty of good fortune on Sunday.
Asked why he stayed on track when the other leaders pitted on lap 382, he grimaced.
"We only had 20 laps on our tires," Busch said. "I looked in the mirror and some guys didn't pit behind us, so I just ... stayed out. But all those guys were a lap down.
"It was a decision I was wrong on and I had to bail myself out on it."
He did that with the help of a series of late-race caution flags that left Wallace, a nine-time winner at Bristol, unhappy and riding a string of 104 consecutive races without a victory despite leading 100 laps and having what appeared to be the fastest car most of the day.
"Doggone, man," Wallace said, shaking his head. "We didn't need those last cautions. I was just about to pass him that one time. Man, I wanted that bad. So close."
There were three cautions in the final 35 laps, the last one coming on lap 494 when rookie Scott Wimmer and Dale Jarrett bumped, sending Jarrett into the wall.
NASCAR red-flagged the race for just over 11 minutes to get the track clean and give the drivers a chance to race to the end.
The green flag waved with two laps to go and Busch's Roush Racing Ford easily pulled away from Wallace, beating the second-place Dodge to the finish line by 0.428 seconds -- about five car-lengths.
Busch joined retired drivers Darrell Waltrip (7), Cale Yarborough (4) and Fred Lorenzen (3) with at least three consecutive victories at Bristol.
Kevin Harvick pressured Wallace for a while near the end but wound up third, followed by Sterling Marlin, defending Nextel Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Ken Schrader and polestarter Ryan Newman, who made up a lost lap. Five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon also had to make up a lost lap to finish ninth.
As usual on the tight Bristol oval, the day ended with lots of beat up cars and frayed tempers.
On the final lap, Kenseth bumped past Jamie McMurray to grab fifth place and McMurray then bounced of Ryan Newman's car before going on to finish eighth.
After taking the checkered flag, McMurray caught up to Kenseth, drove alongside for a moment, rubbing against Kenseth's Ford. McMurray then led Kenseth move ahead and drove up again and turned the series point leader sideways.
Kenseth, who leads new runner-up Busch by 21 points in the standings, shrugged it off.
"I didn't wreck him and he didn't wreck me, so no harm, no foul," Kenseth said.
Earlier in the race, Wimmer hit a slowing Ricky Craven from behind and Stewart then ran into Wimmer. Stewart caught Wimmer under caution and bumped him in the rear. NASCAR penalized both drivers one lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led 91 laps, fell out of contention when he had to make an extra pit stop because of loose lugnuts. He salvaged an 11th-place finish, but fell from second to third in the standings, 41 points behind Kenseth.