Kurt Busch Scores Solid Fifth-Place Finish at Dover DOVER, Del. (May 31, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge Driver Kurt Busch drove one of the best "big-picture races" of his stellar career in today's Autism Speaks 400 here at Dover International...
Kurt Busch Scores Solid Fifth-Place Finish at Dover
DOVER, Del. (May 31, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge Driver Kurt Busch drove one of the best "big-picture races" of his stellar career in today's Autism Speaks 400 here at Dover International Speedway, finishing fifth and adding more clout to his bid to make the Chase for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Although today's race winner, Jimmie Johnson, overtook Busch for the third spot in the standings, the driver of the "Blue Deuce" was able to add distance to 13th-place in the standings. After today's finish, the 2004 series champ enjoys a spread of 226 "Chase Buffer Points" as the series is now halfway (13 of 26 races) to the cutoff point to determined the 12 players who will battle it out for the series title during the final 10 races.
"It was a good day for the Miller Lite Dodge," said Busch of only his third top-five finish here in 18 career starts. "This place is always tough and to come out of here with a fifth-place finish is really awesome. I think that we can hold our heads high and be proud of our effort.
"Just before the second-to-last caution (for debris) came out, I thought that our Miller Lite Dodge was the fastest car on the race track," said Busch, who overcame the odds of going down a lap early in the race to mount an impressive charge to possibly come home the winner. "The last caution came out and we made the decision to take four tires and ended up on the loose side. That's OK. Two-tire strategy was smart by the rest of the guys, but Jimmie (Johnson) prevailed today. He was really fast. For us in the Miller Lite Dodge camp, it was a great day. We wanted to get to Victory Lane today, but fifth-place...we'll take it. Today was a good day and we picked up some points."
Busch stared back in 19th here this afternoon, but proved to have a strong car in his "PRS-600" Miller Lite Dodge Charger. He made a steady charge up toward the front and was ninth when NASCAR officials displayed a "competition yellow" at Lap 31 due to the fact that a band of showers moved through the area overnight and washed the rubber off the track.
Busch had climbed as far as fourth in the running order when he pitted under the green on Lap 110. He caught a break in that it was only a few laps shy of his scheduled stop and a flat right-rear tire escalated his trip to pit road.
That lucky break turned bad when only five laps later, the third caution of the race fell, this one for debris in the Turn 2 area of the track. When the rest of leaders made their stops, the scoring cycled around to show Busch running in 14th, on the tail end of the lead lap and running in front of leader Johnson for the Lap 122 restart.
Busch displayed unbelievable patience and a cool demeanor as he drove lap after lap running directly in front of Johnson, finally getting the caution flag he needed on Lap 163.
Crew chief Pat Tryson made the gutsy call under the yellow that brought Busch's car up to extreme competitive strength. During the yellow-flag stop, the team removed two rubbers out of the left-rear spring and went down four rounds on the left-rear suspension.
Busch was back in 21st on the Lap 169 restart, but he had climbed back to 15th on Lap 176. He cleared teammate David Stremme for 12th on Lap 191 and got around brother, Kyle, for 11th on Lap 192.
At the halfway point (Lap 200), Johnson held a 5.3-second lead over second-place Denny Hamlin, but Busch had his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge "on a rail," running lap times two-tenths of a second faster that any other car on the track.
Busch had climbed back to eighth when Hamlin made contact with the wall to bring out the fifth caution on Lap 231. A 12.899-second pit stop under the yellow by Busch's "over-the-wall unit" had him up to sixth for the Lap 236 restart. Busch cleared Tony Stewart for fifth on Lap 237 and he got around Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the fourth position on Lap 257.
The sixth yellow flag of the race flew for debris on Lap 276. A 12.77-second four-tire stop under the yellow kept Busch fourth in the running order for the Lap 280 restart. Johnson was able to regain the lead from Matt Kenseth before Paul Menard's crash on the backstretch brought out another yellow on Lap 285.
With all the leaders staying out, it was Johnson leading, Kenseth second, Mark Martin third and Busch fourth on the Lap 290 restart. Busch was able to clear Kenseth for third on Lap 324, but a hard-charging Greg Biffle got around the "2 car" for that spot four laps later.
Another debris caution bunched the field up again on Lap 331. A 13.171-second stop had Busch up to third for the Lap 335 restart. Busch quickly cleared Biffle for the second spot and had his eyes set on leader Johnson. He had cut the deficit to the lead from 2.2 seconds to 1.4 seconds when the ninth yellow flag of the race, this for debris, flew on Lap 363.
While Busch, Tryson and crew went the conservative route of taking on four tires and fuel, Biffle, Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne all took on only right-side tires and lined up in front of Busch, dropping him to fifth for the Lap 368 restart.
Stremme had been able to mount a charge up to the sixth spot for the restart and appeared to be headed toward his best finish of the year. However, his car broke free with 30 laps remaining and his crash brought out the 10th yellow of the race.
Biffle led on the Lap 373 restart, with Stewart second, Newman third, Kahne fourth, Busch fifth, Mark Martin sixth, Kenseth seventh, Johnson eighth, Carl Edwards ninth and Casey Mears 10th.
Busch was able to clear Kahne for fourth on Lap 377 and he got around Newman for third on Lap 379. Johnson was flying back up through the field and he took the third spot from Busch on Lap 380. A hard-charging Kenseth passed Busch for fourth on Lap 381 as it was apparent the last set of Goodyears was not the best Busch had used today.
Johnson was able to power on up through the field, blowing by second-place Biffle on Lap 393 and finally getting around Stewart for the lead with two laps remaining.
At the line, it was Johnson taking the win by 0.861 seconds over runner-up Stewart. Biffle finished third, with Kenseth fourth and Busch holding off Kahne for the fifth spot. Edwards finished seventh, with Newman eighth, Mears ninth and Martin 10th. Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. drove a very impressive race here today to finish 13th, while Stremme, deserving much more, had to settle for a 31st-place finish.
Jeff Gordon came into today's race as the points leader, but a 26th-place finish coupled with Stewart's performance sees Stewart with a 46-point lead (1,853 to 1,807) over Gordon after 13 races hae been put into the 2009 record book. Johnson's win here today vaulted him to a 27 point lead over Busch for the third spot (1,789 to 1,762), with Newman (1,680) holding down the fifth spot. The remainder of the current top 12 are Kyle Busch (1,634), Hamlin (1,630), Kenseth (1,625), Biffle (1,618), Jeff Burton (1,587), Edwards (1,582) and Martin (1,567).
Busch was able to increase his "Chase Points Buffer" to 226 over 13th-place David Reutimann (1,536) here today. Hornish (1,237 points) advanced four positions up the ladder to 26th here today, while Stremme (1,206) dropped three spots to 29th.
"It was a good day for the Miller Lite Dodge," Tryson added. "We thought we had a shot there after the last caution to win the race. We decided to change all four tires and it looked like taking two (tires) held up better than we thought. The 48 won the race on a four-tire pit strategy; we just couldn't run him down in the end."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to the scenic Pocono Mountains for next Sunday's running of the Pocono 500, the first of two grueling 500-mile battles scheduled on the flat 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway for this season.