CONCORD, N.C. -- Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch pulled into Victory Lane and had begun celebrating his big win in last year's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he got a tap on the shoulder that got his attention. The pat (on the shoulder and on the back) came from Busch's father, Tom, and it drew him over to look at the practically destroyed right side of his Penske Racing Dodge Charger.
"You know, they say some time you can smack the wall just right and get the handling knocked right back into these race cars," the elder Busch said, chuckling and pointing to the mangled sheet metal. "I think you might have hit on something there, dad," the younger Busch responded, adding a brief hug. "It sure looks like that was the case here tonight, doesn't it?"
Such was the scene after the dust had settled from the 2010 edition of the special annual non-points All-Star battle that saw Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, depart Bruton Smith's 1.5-mile quad-oval race track with a gigantic $1,078,309 payday.
"It was a special race that led to two of the most memorable weekends of my career," said Busch, as his Steve Addington-led Penske Racing "Double Deuce" team heads back to CMS hoping to duplicate the incredible success they had there last May. "The way that we won the All-Star Race last year will always stick out in my mind as quite incredible. Smacking the wall there as hard as we did, you'd have sworn that we didn't have a chance to win it, but we did. Then to come back the next weekend to dominate and win the Coke 600 like we did was such an achievement.
"We had struggled quite a bit through the years at Charlotte, running strong at times, but not being able to be there at the end and battle for the checkered flags," said Busch. "It seemed to be one of my most challenging race tracks. With all the teams based in the Charlotte area, it made that desire and determination even more intense. It was a major goal of mine personally to come to grips with the track and win races there. The win in the All-Star Race might have just gotten us over the hump. It's said that success breeds success and that certainly was true for our Penske Racing Dodge Team there last year."
Since joining Penske for the 2006 season, Busch had never started the All-Star Race outside the top-three positions. But finishing up front was a completely different situation.
After starting third in the 2006 edition of the race, engine problems relegated Busch to a 20th-place finish. He started third again for the 2007 race, but a highly-publicized incident with younger brother, Kyle, forced an early exit and a 19th-place finish. A third-place start in the 2008 race led to a 22nd-place finish due to handling issues and pit strategy. Busch started second in the 2009 race and was finally able to run consistently up front to a third-place finish.
Busch visited the CMS Victory Lane at last in the 2010 All-Star Race. To say that Busch and crew won a hard-fought battle would be a gross understatement. Here is a brief review of Busch's exciting run to the checkered flag in the 2010 Sprint All-Star Race:
Busch started from the pole in the100-lap, four-segment battle due to qualifying getting rained out on Friday night. He was able to show so much strength in the first 50-lap segment that he proved to have a car very capable of winning. In the early going, Jimmie Johnson was able to get by and control the lead, but Busch drove a steady wheel and maintained the second spot until the mandatory pit stop on Lap 25.
Outstanding pit work began on the first stop and continued all the way through the race for Busch's "over-the-wall gang." The evening's first stop, clocked at 12.533 seconds for four tires and fuel, saw Busch enter and leave the pits in the second spot. Busch had led 10 laps in the early going and had younger brother, Kyle, lined up in front of him for the restart. Kyle led with Kurt in tow until the closing laps of the first segment when the elder Busch powered by on the outside to lead the final two circuits of the first segment.
The four-tire stop before the second segment saw the 2004 champ restart eighth, but he was back up to third on Lap 52. Fighting a loose condition, his car washed up the track and almost into the outside wall on Lap 63. He fell to fifth at the conclusion of the second segment.
I know it will be so difficult to follow it up this time ...
The call was for two right-side tires under the ensuing caution as seven cars stayed out and placed Busch eighth on the Lap 71 restart. While Jimmie Johnson was setting sail in the lead up front, Busch experienced its worst handling woes all evening. Busch impacted the wall on Lap 73 and began to fall back through the field. He told Addington and crew that the right side of his car was "junk" as his crew chief coached him on to complete that segment.
Busch had fallen to 11th on Lap 76 and remained there after the third segment had ended. During the 10-minute break, Addington and crew repaired the damage done from the wall contact the best they could and made chassis adjustments to bring life to their car during the final 10-lap run to the finish. His crew's incredible 11.889-second four-tire stop shot him up three spots as the race was ready to return to green.
Busch was eighth on the restart that got no further than the first turn before a multi-car crash took out the likes of Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon and a host of others. With no caution laps counting, the field got another restart with 10 laps to go.
Busch was sixth on the restart and quickly moved up to fourth. But with teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch playing the blocking game up front, the younger Busch wound up in the outside wall, with the elder Busch Brother making a valiant charge to the inside to get around the lead tandem and Johnson in just one turn of Lap 93 to grab the lead.
Busch was able to get out to a comfortable lead only to see a later crash involving his brother and Kasey Kahne bring out another caution flag with two laps to go. Busch lined up as the leader, with Johnson second, Joey Logano third, Hamlin fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth.
Hamlin and Johnson got into each other with a lap to go, sending Johnson spinning down into the infield grass and forcing a green-white-checkered finish.
After the restart, Busch was able to pull out to a comfortable lead and cruise to the win over runner-up Truex. Logano finished third, with Hamlin fourth and Tony Stewart fifth. Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-10. Only 13 cars were around for the finish.
"It was a race that I will remember for the rest of my life - a special race that kicked off such an incredible two consecutive weekends of racing at Charlotte," said Busch. "I know it will be so difficult to follow it up this time around with that level of success, but rest assured we will be out there giving it everything we have to do just that."
Busch, Addington and crew will be racing their "PRS-746" Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend's Sprint All-Star Race. This is the chassis the team debuted at Fontana, Calif., back in March, starting 23rd and finishing 17th. The "PRS-738" will serve as the backup. This is the chassis last raced in the February Phoenix race where Busch started second and finished eighth.
-source; penske racing