Tony Stewart stalked Virginia short-track racer Greg Edwards for several laps before passing him, and the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ never gave up the lead again to win the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond International Raceway.
Along the way, he gave Edwards the thrill of a lifetime.
"My gosh," Edwards, who races at Langley Speedway in Hampton, said, beaming, after finishing second. "To get beat by Tony Stewart. How bad is that?"
Stewart took off on a restart with 11 laps to go in the 75-lap event while Jeff Burton, running second, failed to keep pace and wound up getting shuffled back.
"I was worried about Burton," Stewart said. "He was really strong and he's done this a long time. I was worried that he'd saved a little but more than we had."
Joey Logano took advantage, moving from fifth to second, but his stay up front was short-lived as Edwards, Brandon Butler and Burton all passed him before the finish.
"I was grinning from ear to ear every lap," Edwards said. "I was having a blast."
Ben Rhodes, 15, of Louisville, Ky., finished sixth.
Stewart said it was nice to be a be to contribute to a memorable experience for the local track drivers, but said the Spring Cup regulars learned as much as they taught.
"They didn't need much help," he said. "Those guys are pretty good on their own."
As a car owner in NASCAR's top series, Stewart said there also was value in seeing some of the young drivers up close because some, he said, will rise through the ranks.
"Trust me, there's a lot of these guys today and we're going to see these guys down the road in Nationwide or trucks or the Cup series, and the fun part is we got to see them here first," he said. "It's fun to race with some of these guys and know their names now."
Burton's night had a disappointing ending. Driving a car he built with the intention of turning it over to his 11-year-old son, Harrison, Burton was victimized by operator error.
"I had trouble all day long going from second to third (gear)," Burton said, including on the final restart. "The car owner's got to go to work getting some better parts."
Hamlin, who won last year after starting from the back of the field, started 19th and got caught up with several others in a crash on the opening lap. He went to pit road for repairs and came back out briefly, but eventually parked after running just 29 laps.
His qualifying run, he said, left him "right in the middle of a hornet's nest."