Kurt Busch was anxious to prove that he wasn't the only member of his family that would challenge for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this year. Race winner Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge celebrates. Photo by Action Sports ...
Kurt Busch was anxious to prove that he wasn't the only member of his family that would challenge for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this year.
The older brother won the series championship in 2004 but took a back seat to younger brother Kyle Busch in the standings last year. Kyle won in Las Vegas a week ago and on Sunday, Kurt responded with a dominant performance in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway that backed up his claims that his Penske Racing team are championship contenders.
Busch started on the outside of the front row and had the dominant car throughout the day but needed a thrilling next-to-last lap pass on Carl Edwards to earn the checkered flag finish.
"This was an incredible race," said Busch, who also won here in 2002. "I have to thank my guys - this car was unbelievable. Great calls by (Crew Chief) Pat Tryson - and great power. Penske power is back."
Busch led 235 of 330 laps but brushed the wall on lap 185 and then hit the wall again just before the caution came out on lap 215. Jeff Gordon took the lead when he won the race off of pit road but Busch stormed back to take the lead back on lap 251. He was cruising to the finish when Robbie Gordon brought out the caution with three laps to go to set up a green-white-checkered finish. Edwards took the lead on pit road when he took just two tires but Busch powered around Edwards on the backstretch and then held off a late charge by Gordon to land the win.
"When you beat those two guys here Atlanta - especially on a day that reminded you of Darlington where this place would just chew you up and spit you out," smiled the winner who scored his third top-10 of the season, "but we had it handled."
Busch said that his team struggled with the new car style over the past two years and that they are finally catching up to the field. "Good things come to those who wait," he said. "We waited over a year and a half for this COT to have a good package. We've had that to start 2009."
Jeff Gordon also got around Edwards and looked like he would press the issue on the final lap but Busch pulled away to claim his second career win at AMS.
Gordon grabbed his second runner-up finish of the young season. "It's just this race team stepping it up," he said, "We gave him a great run."
Gordon pushed his lead to 43 points over Clint Bowyer while Kurt Busch jumped up four spots to third and trails Gordon by 46 points.
"We're going to win races," Gordon said. "These guys are just flawless - they aren't skipping a beat. We'll keep knocking on the door until we get into victory lane."
Edwards started 29th but made his way to the front of the field early in the race. He knew that taking two tires was a risky strategy but took the chance to take the restart at the front of the field.
"That's was the hand we were dealt," Edwards said. "All I could think of was when Jimmie Johnson won when they threw the green flag and then the yellow flag right away. I thought I'd rather be in the lead in that situation. I wish we could have had four tires there but Kurt ran a good race and was the fastest car all day."
Kevin Harvick finished fourth and Brian Vickers didn't lead a lap but spent the second half of the race closing in on the lead and creeped up to Busch in the closing laps to stir up an interesting finish. He got shuffled back in the pack on pit road but brought home a fifth place finish.
Vickers said he wanted to see how the race would have turned out without the final caution. "I think we definitely had a car for it," he claimed. "Kurt was definitely better in parts of the run and we were better in others. We obviously ran him down but we were both running the same line so it was going to get interesting. It was fun racing him there at the end. We had to fight through some troubles."
Reed Sorenson brought out the caution on the first lap and then a strange caution trapped a bunch of cars a lap down early in the race. With cars cycling through green flag stops, a crew member from Marcos Ambrose's team chased a rolling tire into the infield grass. NASCAR threw the caution because he went to an unapproved area. When the field went green, just six cars were scored on the lead lap. Eight other cars started ahead of those cars on the restart so were officially still on the lead lap.
Mark Martin, who started on the pole for the first time in eight years, paced the first five laps and was running with the leaders until he blew a right rear tire and hit the outside wall hard on lap 214.