Busch Finishes Second at Richmond, Secures Spot in Chase RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 12, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch saved the best for last in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, coming on strong...
Busch Finishes Second at Richmond, Secures Spot in Chase
RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 12, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch saved the best for last in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, coming on strong to a runner-up finish by 0.379 seconds behind winner Denny Hamlin. His smooth and consistent run locked him into the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship and placed him seventh among the 12 title contenders entering the 10-race playoff battle.
"We did what we needed to do tonight to make the Chase and I'm so proud of our Miller Lite Dodge Team," said Busch, the inaugural 2004 Chase winner and now a four-time "Chaser" in the last six years. "It was a conservative race setup wise for us. We put ourselves up front to try and stay out of trouble. We finally found something that the car liked during the race and I'm so proud of our guys. It was really a good run for us tonight and exactly what we needed heading into the Chase.
"It gave us a more comfortable feeling to run in the top five all night and try to stay out of trouble," said Busch. "We made great adjustments on the car which we hadn't done most of the year during the race. To be in contention to win like that at the end and have great pit stops all night, it shows we're ready. We've got some questions marks, but we'll sort it out when we get there. It's a nice time for a celebration on Sunday. It's a moral victory for the team. It gives us a shot at the championship. We're only 30 points behind. It's a whole different game now."
Busch started Saturday's race from the 13th position, but after only 16 laps he was up to 10th. He passed fellow Dodge driver Kasey Kahne for fifth on lap 44 and became a fixture among the top-five for the remainder of the race.
Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Busch were the drivers who spent most of the night running in the top-five spots. Busch's Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing Team made some adjustments during late-race caution flag pit stops that really brought their car to life during the closing laps.
Brad Keselowski's blown engine brought out the 10th caution flag of the race and set up a final 15-lap dash to the finish. In order to positively affect the handling of Busch's Dodge, Tryson made the call to not put additional fuel in the car on that final pit stop.
Busch lined up for the restart in the third spot behind leader Hamlin and second-place Mark Martin. With his car's balance at near optimum, Busch was able to quickly clear Martin for the second spot and he started to go after Hamlin for the lead and the win. Hamlin proved to be too tough down the stretch and Busch had to settle for the runner-up finishing spot.
Gordon finished third, with Martin fourth and Kyle Busch fifth. Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman rounded out tonight's top-10 finishers.
"It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to work ourselves through the regular season and get into the Chase," Busch said. "It's a sigh of relief, but at the same time, it's an opportunity and we now have that in front of us. To have our cars run with the strength that we had at the beginning of the year and then to plateau a little bit, it feels good to finish off strong, especially at the most recent short-tracks like Bristol and Richmond.
"So the confidence that it gives the crew, the team, to know that all the changes we made this off-season, and to put a car back in the Chase...it's my second in four years at Penske to do that...it's a huge moment. Roger Penske is ecstatic," said Busch. "All the top guys, Tim Cindric, Walter Czarnecki, it's amazing the feeling you get when you do something special and we did that. We just can't stop in making the Chase. We have to continue to push forward and to attack at the tracks that we're going to be good on and to continue to advance our program on tracks that we think that we might struggle. A great day for Miller Lite, Dodge and all of our associates at Penske Racing. It feels like we're back in the game."
"We had a good car all night. I wish we had a little something more for the 11(Denny Hamlin)," crew chief Tryson added. "It was a nice solid night to make the Chase. Now we can go after that championship. If it wasn't for a couple of wrecks, we would have been locked in (the Chase) a couple of races ago. That stuff happens. We've run good all year. Hopefully, we can go give them a run for their money. The first two (New Hampshire and Dover) are good tracks for us. So if we can get out good, we'll see what happens."
Brian Vickers was the biggest gainer here tonight in the quest to make the Chase. His seventh-place finish was enough to move him into the top-12 and move Matt Kenseth (who finished 25th) back to 14th in the standings. Even though he finished fifth, Kyle Busch missed making the Chase by a mere eight points.
"When I did hear that he didn't make it, I slid down next to my car and thought for a moment what eight points mean in this sport," Kurt Busch said of his younger brother's situation. "I was on the fortunate side of winning the (NASCAR) championship by eight points back in 2004 and to see my little brother not make it, it's devastating. You always hope that you have the most bullets in the gun for the Busch family, a shot at winning the championship. They had a great start to their season. They won at tracks that you expected to win on, then they struggle on tracks that we didn't expect them to struggle at. So, eight points for him is tough. His sun will rise again. He'll have a shot at coming back and their season is not lost. They're still going to be one of the toughest guys to beat for wins week-in-and-week-out now that he's not even running for points which fits his mentality. This could be a good lesson-learned too...you don't have to win them all...but you have to run consistent. I'm sure he's been told that 100 times. It's just tough to see the kid not make the Chase."
The NASCAR Cup Series tour heads to New Hampshire next weekend for the opening race in the 2009 Chase. Busch will have a busy schedule this week. He'll spend most of the day on Wednesday in Bristol, Conn., at the ESPN headquarters as NASCAR's featured representative making the rounds as a major guest on all the network's programming. Thursday will see Busch and the 11 other "Chasers" going at it during a full day's schedule of media activities in New York City, before heading on to New Hampshire.