DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 13, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch saw his 12th-place finish in Sunday's weather-delayed Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway lift him up to seventh in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. Yet, it was ...
DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 13, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch saw his 12th-place finish in Sunday's weather-delayed Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway lift him up to seventh in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings.
Yet, it was still a very disappointed former champion who reflected on the day some 90 minutes after the race's conclusion.
"It's frustrating, it really is," said the 2004 NEXTEL Cup champion who is determined to give car-owner Roger Penske and sponsor Miller Lite their first NASCAR points title trophies during the 2007 season. "We fought a tight-handling car almost all day long and clawed our way up into the top five.
"We were a solid top-five car when the caution came out with just over 30 laps to go and had to decide whether to pit or not. It's almost become a no-win situation for us because regardless of what we do it seems to work against us. I was for pitting and that's what we did. The 48 car [Jimmie Johnson] was leading and he pitted. We followed him down pit road. The 24 [Jeff Gordon] was second and he stayed out. So did Ryan [Newman, teammate] and several others.
"We caught the worst end of the situation when we had the only bad pit stop we had all day long under that yellow. So, as it turned out, we were third when the caution came out and we were 13th when we went back to green with not that many laps to go."
Busch started Sunday's race in 18th. He passed Jeff Gordon for 10th on lap 64. He bounced between the sixth and 10th spots until lap 220, when he finally made it into the top five.
Busch and Penske Racing teammate Newman looked to have the strength to potentially overtake the dominant Hendrick Motorsports teams of Gordon and Johnson with some 100 laps remaining, but that would not be the case.
The Troy Raker-led Miller Lite Dodge Avenger team fought its way back into the top five as Busch cleared Matt Kenseth for the fifth spot on lap 282. He got around Newman for fourth on lap 303.
When A.J. Almindinger crashed and collected Kyle Busch on lap 304, the race's seventh caution flag flew and all of the lead-lap cars hit pit road. The No. 2 team went for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment during the lap 305 trip to pit road.
The lineup for the lap 310 restart saw Johnson with the lead, Gordon in second, Busch third, Newman fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
A lap 333 caution for debris bunched up the cars again and the lead-lap cars once again hit pit road. Busch was back to fifth for the lap 339 restart, but he had passed both Kenseth and Newman and was up to third when the ninth of 10 yellow flags flew on lap 344 for debris.
That was when Busch followed Johnson down pit road and had to deal with the 14.917-second pit stop that left him 13th for the ensuing lap 349 restart.
The final yellow flew with 17 laps remaining when David Stremme's Dodge blew his engine. Busch was back in 14th for the final restart with 12 laps to go. He was able to make up two spots during the final laps.
Busch is now up to seventh in the NEXTEL Cup standings with 1,325 points. He is 161 points behind fifth-place Burton and 50 points behind sixth-place Stewart. Busch has a 10-point advantage over eighth-place Kevin Harvick and is 111 points ahead of 13th-place Jamie McMurray.
"I'd say we had a solid top-five car today," said interim crew chief Raker. "It's just about track position. It's been roll the dice on these pit stops. I've tried to team up with people who have been doing this for years and they even missed it a little bit. We were talking coming down the backstretch trying to decide whether to pit or not.
"Everybody on the crew is pretty proud and everybody at the shop is pretty happy right now. We're running better. There's no doubt about that. Everybody is a little frustrated that we're not getting the finishes, and they ought to be. We know they'll come. We can't wait to get to Charlotte."
"I'd changed clothes this morning in the coach and not in the transporter and really didn't have the chance to get the good news for the day until almost an hour later," Busch said as he was headed back home to Mooresville, N.C. "They told me about the gain in points and that we've now climbed six positions in just the last three races. We just have to keep that momentum going."
The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the non-points All-Star Challenge weekend. The action begins on Friday with practice sessions from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Qualifying Friday at 7:15 p.m. features the unique format of three laps under the clock with a four-tire pit stop thrown into the equation. On Saturday, the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge begins after the conclusion of the NEXTEL Open "last chance" race at approximately 9 p.m.
-credit: penske racing