Charlotte II: Kurt Busch race report

CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 13, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing team appeared to have finally found the cure for what had been their Achilles heel in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor ...

CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 13, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing team appeared to have finally found the cure for what had been their Achilles heel in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

But after overcoming a history of handling issues in recent races, it was engine-related problems that took their toll on Busch's strong bid for a win. The end result was a 26th-place finish.

"Man, you have to come out of here saying that we've turned the corner on getting a handle on this place,' crew chief Tryson said in the garage after the race."We led the race and had a top-two or top-three car for the majority of the night. We had the incident on pit road that dropped us back to the tail end of the lead lap and came back to running fourth and having the strongest car on the track.

"I thought we had a car capable of winning at the beginning of the race and at the middle of the race. We fell behind after the run-in with the 01 car [Mark Martin] on pit road, but we bounced back and again had a good shot of winning with only 60 laps to go. We were back up to fourth and running laps two-tenths (of a second) faster than the leaders and closing in. Unfortunately, we dropped a cylinder while Kurt was on course to win this thing and we were forced to just ride it out for the final 50 laps."

Busch started eighth in Saturday's race, but showed winning potential almost immediately after the green flag dropped. He passed Bobby Labonte for fifth on lap 6 to become a staple player among the top-five for the next 183 laps, leading on three different occasions during that period.

Pit strategies varied all night long, with teams going with four tires, two tires and even no tires. It was a no tires, fuel only stop under the ninth caution on lap 191 that would test Busch, Tryson and crew. After making the stop in a lightning-quick 5.884 seconds, Busch attempted to merge out of his pit stall, the first pit entering pit road, only to collide with Martin as he was entering his pit. Busch sustained damage to his right-front fender and was forced to pit again the following lap to make repairs.

Busch was running 26th and was the final car on the lead lap for the ensuing lap 195 restart. With Tryson preaching patience to his frustrated driver, Busch had worked his way back up to 16th when the race's 11th yellow flag flew on lap 223 for Matt Kenseth's turn 2 crash. Tryson called for a fuel-only stop, which shot the No. 2 car all the way up to seventh for the lap 228 restart.

Busch had cleared Scott Riggs for fourth on lap 256 and was closing on the frontrunners. He was running consistent lap times of 30.450 seconds compared to the leader's 30.700 seconds lap after lap. He had whittled away half of what was a 5-second deficit to the leader and appeared to be on his way back to contend for the win when the engine problem struck.

"We just dropped a cylinder," Busch radioed in to his crew on lap 269, as his team prepared for a series of green flag pit stops.

Busch hit pit road on lap 277 for four tires and fuel. Juan Pablo Montoya crashed in turn 2 only two laps later to bring out the race's 13th caution period.

Unfortunately, Busch would have to spend the remainder of the race nursing his car to the finish. Up front, the drama mounted as Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, along with Clint Bowyer and Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman, were battling down to the wire for the win.

Gordon had passed the younger Busch Brother for the lead on lap 285, but Kyle Busch's Chevy continued to get stronger as the laps concluded. When Jeff Green's Chevy dropped oil throughout turns 3 and 4, Johnny Sauter's spin on lap 322 brought out the race's 14th caution flag. The track was in such a messy shape that NASCAR displayed the red flag for a 12-minute cleanup period.

When the race returned to green with only five laps remaining, Newman made an exciting and daring outside move around the front three cars to grab the lead, but with only three laps remaining, Newman's Dodge spun wildly entering the turn after cutting a tire and crashed into the outside wall.

That set up a green-white-checker finish, with several of the contenders, including leader Gordon, running very slim on fuel. After the return to green, Gordon was able to get all he could out of his sputtering engine and hold off Bowyer for the win, the 81st of his stellar career and his first at Charlotte since 1999.

Kyle Busch finished third, with Jeff Burton fourth and Carl Edwards fifth. Newman came home 28th.

"We didn't crash out of it like we have been doing here and we had a car capable of winning," Busch said after the race. "Hopefully, we're turning the corner on getting a grip on this place. We're not done yet here because we'll be back Monday and Tuesday doing the tire test for Goodyear. We'll keep after it until we make it to victory lane here in a Cup race."

Kurt Busch remained seventh in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings after Saturday's race, but his deficit to first grew to 315 points. Gordon continues to lead the points with 5,880.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup tour now heads to Martinsville Speedway for the season's final short-track battle. Next Sunday's Subway 500 on the picturesque 0.526-mile Martinsville track has a 1 p.m. EDT starting time and will have live coverage by ABC and MRN Radio.

-credit: pr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske