Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch will start his No. 2 Penske Racing Charger from the 13th position in Sunday's Daytona 500 here at Daytona International Speedway after finishing sixth in the first of today's two 150-mile qualifying races. "It's...
Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch will start his No. 2 Penske Racing Charger from the 13th position in Sunday's Daytona 500 here at Daytona International Speedway after finishing sixth in the first of today's two 150-mile qualifying races. "It's a lot better than last year, I can tell you that," Busch said back in the garage immediately after his race concluded. "We just got caught up in that early spin which made us start from behind again. The Miller Lite Dodge was running a little loose, so we adjusted and made it a little bit too tight. We're just running on too fine of a line right now. It's really important for us to make the car more adjustable for the full 500 miles."
Today's qualifying race was certainly full of thrills for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, who is entering his fourth season as the driver of the Miller Lite Dodge for car owner Roger Penske.
After starting 22nd, Busch had already moved up five positions when his loose-handling Dodge got a tap from the rear by Robby Gordon as the pack negotiated Turn 4. Busch was fortunate that he did not hit anything and spun down on the apron to bring out the first caution flag of the race.
After the crew made chassis adjustments to "tighten up" the car during the pit stop that followed, Busch was 28th - last on the field - for the Lap 6 restart. He patiently maneuvered his way back up through the pack. He cracked the top-20 on Lap 11 and was up to 15th on Lap 15.
Mike Skinner's car stalled on the backstretch on Lap 25 to bring out the second yellow flag of the race. With Busch telling crew chief Pat Tryson on the team radio that his car was, "pushing the front end and bad loose and sliding with the rear end," the crew went with wedge and track bar adjustments when the Miller Lite Dodge hit pit road. Busch got trapped in his pit stall when a crew member was injured in the pits in front. The team had to push Busch backwards before he could exit the pits.
The race returned to green on Lap 30, at the half-way point of the 60-lap race, with pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. leading, Jeff Gordon second, Tony Stewart third, David Ragan fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth. Busch was back in 15th for the restart.
After losing the draft momentarily on Lap 38, Busch worked with Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. to draft back up to eighth when Truex spun to bring out the third caution period of the day. Hornish and Busch were both extremely fortunate to miss getting collected in the spin.
Busch went with four tires and only air pressure adjustments during what would be the final pit stop of the race. Jamie McMurray did not pit and led on the Lap 51 restart. Busch was able to follow Stewart past a spinning Casey Mears on the next lap to make it up to sixth for the final restart with five laps remaining.
With four laps to go, Busch made an inside move, but no other driver fell behind him to offer drafting help/ He fell back to 10th as Stewart was taking the lead up front. Always seeming capable of mounting a charge at the end of every restrictor-plate race, Busch did just that as he was back up to seventh when the white flag flew and up to sixth at the checkered flag.
"It really is (a good feeling) have our Miller Lite Dodge back after the Duel and not all beat and banged up," Busch said. "It is a relief for everyone....myself, Pat and especially the crew guys. It looks like we've got a top-15 starting spot and we'll go from there. The big picture is how we get our car to handle better for 500 miles. We'll go to work tomorrow and Saturday - working really hard at it -- making some adjustments and trying to dial it in for the big race on Sunday."
Gordon came home the winner in the first 150-mile qualifier, with Stewart second, Jimmie Johnson third, rookie Joey Logano fourth and Aric Almirola fifth. Busch was sixth, with Kasey Kahne seventh, Scott Riggs eighth, Paul Menard ninth and McMurray 10th.
The second 150-miler came down to a thrilling finish, with Kyle Busch holding off a last-lap charge by Mark Martin (second) and Brian Vickers (third). Juan Montoya was fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeremy Mayfield and A. J. Allmendinger rounded on the top-10 finishers.
When the dust settled here this afternoon, the three-car Penske Racing effort was solidly in the field. Busch leads the contingent with his 13th starting spot. David Stremme will start 24th and Sam Hornish Jr. starts 29th.