DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - After fighting a bad case of the "new car blues" for the majority of tonight's Coke Zero 400 here at Daytona International Speedway, it was another unbelievable but typical "scratching and clawing" Kurt Busch performance that...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - After fighting a bad case of the "new car blues" for the majority of tonight's Coke Zero 400 here at Daytona International Speedway, it was another unbelievable but typical "scratching and clawing" Kurt Busch performance that produced a fourth-place finish for the Miller Lite Dodge Team.
"It's a great finish for our Miller Lite Dodge," said a smiling yet relieved Busch, after he crawled out of his car and stood on pit road with the other top-five finishers. "It was a hard fought day. We came into the pits and changed a right-front shock, which you don't normally do. We changed the left side track bar and that takes wrenches out of your tool box. You normally don't do that. We just fought all race long with making changes trying to make our car better.
"It was about the same setup that we had here in February and (the setup) showed up right there at the end tonight," Busch explained. "I just needed to calm down and play it cool a little bit, whether it's a 500 or 400 mile race here. Our Miller Lite Dodge really was running at the end when everybody was bumping and grinding. Our car pushed well and got pushed well. It was a good day for us.
"It's like that every time here," Busch said of the wild action down to the checkered flag. "The more I'm right in the middle of the lead pack, the more comfortable I am in the car. I feel like I learn something each time I'm in that position, especially how to survive it and get a good finish out of it. To finish with two top fives in a row is a good twist of fate for our team and we'll try to build on it."
After crashing his primary car in practice here on Thursday, Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing No. 2 team were forced to roll out there backup car and qualify on Friday without any practice. With it being an "impound" event, his two laps under the clock here on Friday also served as the total number of laps on the car when the green flag fell here tonight.
After starting 36th, Busch reported that his car was "darting all over the place" after only five laps had been completed. The situation gradually grew worse as an extreme tight condition set it.
The team went to work trying to get the car handling better. Under the first caution period, spring rubbers were taken out of the right rear. Busch had made it up to 18th by Lap 28, but he was still fighting an incredibly ill-handling car.
The crew made virtually every change imaginable during the first three-quarters of the race, taking such drastic measures as going up an unheard-of 16 rounds on the track bar on Lap 72 during the third caution period of the race. With the front end of Busch's car feeling as if it was, "like running on skis out here," at Lap 79, the team did the unthinkable by changing the right-front shock absorber on Lap 111 under the fourth caution period of the night.
After going from the 36th spot on the Lap 114 restart, Busch began demonstrating his restrictor-plate racing prowess down the stretch. With a potentially serious situation involving the right-front tires, Busch pitted for the final time under the fifth yellow of the race on Lap 125. He was 23rd on the restart with 32 laps to go.
Two different altercations saw him receive contact significant enough to warrant extra precaution and extensive visual checks to make sure there were no tire rubs.
When Denny Hamlin bounced off the outside wall in Turn 4 and shot across the track into Ryan Newman, sending him spinning into the inside wall, the seventh caution flag of the night flew. Several cars including those of Jimmie Johnson, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte and Hamlin hit pit road. Busch and crew continued to opt for track position and stayed out on the track.
Busch was 19th on the Lap 139 restart. Only one lap later, he miraculously managed to escape getting caught up in a crash triggered when Casey Mears was hit from the rear and knocked into the outside wall. Mears shot back across the track collecting Jeff Burton in his path. Busch came within inches of getting taken out by Burton when he hit the outside wall and spun back into the oncoming traffic.
After Joe Nemechek and Boris Said crashed in Turn 4 to bring out the ninth caution, again several cars hit pit road, including Kasey Kahne, who had a serious tire rub.
Jeff Gordon led on the Lap 152 restart, with Kyle Busch, who had fallen earlier to 36th in the running order and displayed the strength of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota by marching back up through the field, running second. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, Matt Kenseth fourth, Kevin Harvick fifth, David Ragan sixth, Mark Martin seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, Clint Bowyer ninth and Robby Gordon 10th. Pole-sitter Paul Menard was 11th, with J.J, Yeley, subbing for an ill Tony Stewart, in 12th, Michael Waltrip 13th, Kurt Busch 14th and Kvapil 15th.
With drafting help from Kvapil, Kurt Busch was up to eighth on Lap 157 and was fifth on Lap 157, when a multi-car crash entering Turn 3 involving Johnson, Hamlin, Yeley, Dave Blaney and David Reutimann brought out the 10th caution period and set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Kyle Busch led on the final restart, with Jeff Gordon second, Edwards third, Kenseth fourth, Kurt Busch fifth, Ragan sixth, Kahne seventh, Waltrip eighth, Martin ninth and Bowyer 10th.
Edwards spun Gordon out in Turn 1 after the green flag flew, but the race stayed under green. It was wild double-file racing when the pack crossed the line to take the white flag, indicating one lap to go.
The pack bumped and shuffled during the final circuit and coming down to the checkers, a multi-car melee involving Waltrip, Kvapil, Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr. and others saw the race end under yet another yellow flag and created a scoring nightmare as officials tried to determine the finishing order.
The unofficial results showed Kyle Busch taking his sixth win of the season, with Edwards second, Kenseth third, Kurt Busch fourth and Ragan fifth. Robby Gordon, Kahne, Earnhardt, Bowyer and Martin rounded out the top-10 finishers. Penske Racing's rookie competitor Hornish was listed as 29th on the unofficial results sheet, while Newman, who looked to have winning potential before getting caught up in the late-race crash, was credited with a 36th-place finish.
"Kurt gave me a lot of credit for our win last weekend at Loudon (New Hampshire Motor Speedway), but tonight's credit belongs to Kurt," said crew chief Pat Tryson. "With a brand new car and facing all the problems we did, some how he was able to dig deep when it counted most and get a top-five out of it. I've always thought that he was definitely among the top-five plate racers in the sport and he certainly reinforced that here tonight. It was a case where the driver was a ton better than the car and he was able to work his magic at the end."
The unofficial point standings after 18 races have been completed on the 2008 schedule show Kyle Busch (2,686 points) leading second-place Earnhardt (2,504) by 182 points. Stewart is 12th with 2,145 points. Kurt Busch (1,954 points) maintained his 18th position in the points, but clipped another 31 points off his deficit to 12th with tonight's performance. He is now 191 point out of 12th, with eight races remaining to determine the 12 players in this years "Chase for the Championship."