FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 30, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch returns to Texas Motor Speedway for this weekend's Dickies 500, hoping to wrap up some unfinished business from his last trip to the 1.5-mile Denton County track. Busch's...
FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 30, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch returns to Texas Motor Speedway for this weekend's Dickies 500, hoping to wrap up some unfinished business from his last trip to the 1.5-mile Denton County track.
Busch's Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing crew will race the same car that Busch drove from a 17th-place start to an 11th-place finish in April at TMS.
Well, that statement is not entirely true. Busch will pilot that same chassis, but it positively should not be viewed as the exact same Miller Lite Dodge Charger. It was the car in its original form during the April 15 Samsung 500 at TMS, the story of the spring race weekend and what has transpired since that is certainly worth revisiting.
Busch and his crew arrived at TMS with a new team leader. Crew chief Roy McCauley had gone on a leave of absence to spend time with his ailing wife Amy, who has since been successful in her battle with Leukemia. Troy Raker, the team's chassis engineer, stepped into the role as interim crew chief for the No. 2 Dodge team.
The team came to Texas armed with its strongest car at the time, chassis PSC-090 that had been named "Rusty" after the March 2005 Bristol victory. NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace, former driver of the Miller Lite Dodge, had driven the same car in his final two races at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch paid tribute to Wallace, his popular predecessor, by naming his winning Dodge "Rusty" in Bristol's victory lane.
What Busch, Raker and "Rusty" experienced was almost worthy of labeling science fiction.
The spring race's qualifying day at TMS went into the record books as one of the strangest in the sport's history. Appropriately, it was officially Friday the 13th. Even Eddie Gossage, who heads the Texas facility, could not have scripted what transpired that day.
The day began with adverse weather conditions in the forecast, but they were slow to materialize. It was evident throughout the day that NASCAR officials were determined to get in the scheduled practice and qualifying sessions. Practice was scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. and occurred only slightly behind the time posted. However, only 25 minutes into the session light showers hit the area and brought an end to the action. Hard precipitation then hit the track just after 1:30 p.m. A lull in the moisture saw NASCAR put the jet dryers on the track to get the surface prepared for additional practice.
The track was dried sufficiently to allow the cars back onto the track at 4:15 p.m. for another 30 minutes of practice. Only 10 laps into the session, something appeared to go wrong with the right-front corner of Busch's Dodge Charger and he plowed straight into the turn 2 wall.
"I don't know, something just broke on the right-front," Busch said on the team radio when his demolished car known as "Rusty" came to rest on the apron.
It was a violent impact, but the 2004 NASCAR champion climbed from his mangled mount uninjured. Meanwhile, Busch's team members were already rolling out the backup Miller Lite Dodge and getting it prepared for potential track time.
After making the mandatory trip back by the infield medical center for a checkup, Busch returned to the garage area. Only 20 minutes after the crash had occurred, Busch was able to climb into his backup car -- the PSC-078 Miller Lite Dodge -- and produce four laps of practice before the session ended.
Officially, Busch was listed as only 49th-fastest in practice. NASCAR officials made known the revised plan to get the cars through the technical inspection line immediately and qualifying was to begin at 6:30 p.m., some 2 1/2 hours later than scheduled.
That was not to be, however, as the severe weather that had been holding all around the track closed in just after 5 p.m. Officials directed the teams to take their cars out of the technical inspection line and return them to their garage stalls. Under a scenario that included hard rain, hail and a tornado warning in the area that sent fans scurrying for shelter, NASCAR finally pulled the plug on time trials some 30 minutes later and the starting field for Sunday's race was set by the rule book [car owner points, etc.].
"Heck, yeah, I was pulling for the rain to come," Busch said at the time about the track activities' conclusion. "With as few laps as we had on the backup car, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We get to start up in 17th and can work during both practice sessions to get the car dialed in for Sunday. This car [PRS-078] may not be as strong as the one we crashed, but it's still a pretty good piece. We were strong all day last fall at Dover with it and finished fourth. We'll be OK."
Little did Busch and his crew realize at the time that the strange set of circumstances that Friday the 13th dished out back in April helped the "evolutionary process," turning their PSC-078 into the "PT Special," a winning intermediate track workhorse for the team.
Busch started the Texas spring race from the 17th spot and patiently worked his way up to the front. He appeared to be on his way to victory before a late-race caution put a halt to his potential winning run, relegating him to an 11th-place finish. Busch had worked his way into the top 10 after only 24 laps and was into the top five for the first time on lap 102.
The Miller Lite Dodge passed Jeff Burton for the fourth spot on the 128th lap as the team continued to make minor adjustments of a half-pound here and a half-round there. The car continued to get stronger and stronger as the day progressed. After a 13.740-second pit stop on lap 239 under the race's fifth caution period, Busch lined up second behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lap 244 restart. He was able to get underneath Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead on lap 249.
Tony Stewart had pitted under the green and was trying to use his fresh tires to get a lost lap back from Busch when he spun himself on lap 252. Earnhardt Jr. and a challenging Kyle Busch crashed in the plume of smoke Stewart left behind, ending their chances for a win.
After the race returned to green on lap 259, it appeared that Busch was headed toward his first win for the Miller Lite Dodge team since he won the 2005 spring Bristol race.
That would not be the case, however, as the waning laps unfolded. Busch was getting the worst fuel mileage of any of the lead-lap cars, having to hit pit road several laps before the rest of them. He pitted for what was to be the final time on lap 291 for four tires and fuel. Only two laps later, the race's seventh caution flag fell, this one for debris in turn 4.
Instead of enjoying the healthy lead he had only three laps earlier, Busch found himself running 14th and a lap down to leader Jeff Gordon. He did receive the "Lucky Dog" free pass and was returned to the lead lap. But forced to restart at the end of the longest line and with only 36 laps remaining, Busch was only able to make it back up to the 11th spot when the laps ran out.
"That was a real tear-jerker in the spring Texas race," Busch recalled. "We had as much as a full straightaway lead before we had to pit for fuel. That was the way our luck seemed to always go back then. It was like if you ever wanted to see a caution, just let the No. 2 car hit pit road and, bam, there the caution flag would fly.
"But the great thing that came out of the spring Texas race was that Pat saw such great potential with that particular car and it's the first one he selected to take and do his magic on," Busch said. "He rebuilt the car for the August race at Pocono and everybody knows the rest of that story. We started outside pole and led all but 25 laps, which is the record for dominating and winning a Pocono race. It was only appropriate to name the car the 'PT Special' in honor of Pat after winning that one."
"I didn't join the team until the end of June and we started looking at the inventory of race cars," Tryson explained. "We knew that the [PSC-0] 78 car was really strong from the way it ran at Texas. But what really sold us on rebuilding that particular car was what happened with Kurt racing it in the [May 27 Coca-Cola] 600 at Charlotte [Lowe's Motor Speedway]. Kurt started second and dominated the first third of the race. He led the most laps and was in a zip code of his own. I know, because I was working with another team that was watching in amazement at the time. He just got too loose as the race went on and crashed out of it with 100 laps to go.
"The bad luck there in that race gave us the opportunity to take what had already proven to be a strong car and rebuild it from the ground up. We were certainly pleased with it when we brought it back out at Pocono and it's been a potential winner everywhere since.
"We ran the car last at Kansas [in the Sept. 30 LifeLock 400] and had the car to beat before the bad weather came in."
At Kansas, Busch was the top lap-leader, setting the pace on three occasions for 76 laps before rain and darkness forced officials to call the race 57 laps shy of the scheduled distance.
"It'll be a great car for Texas this weekend and wouldn't it be great to get back out there and take care of the unfinished business from the last visit this time around," Tryson added.