DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 7, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch used his third-place finish in Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway to make up half of his deficit to getting into "Chase eligibility" and created momentum...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 7, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch used his third-place finish in Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway to make up half of his deficit to getting into "Chase eligibility" and created momentum with eight races remaining to decide which 12 teams compete for the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship.
"This is exactly what our Miller Lite Dodge team needed here tonight," Busch said on pit road after the race as he waited for his national TV interview. "We were again in a position to win a restrictor-plate race and certainly wanted to do just that, but this was such a big-picture boost in the long run. The goal is to get into the Chase and this did major improvement for our move back in that direction. It definitely puts us back on the right track and fuels momentum that we'll need during the next eight races."
Busch entered Saturday's battle 15th in the point standings and trailing 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., the driver holding down the final "Chase eligible" spot, by 236 points. After Saturday's race, Busch was still 15th in the standings, but he was now 121 points from making the cut.
"That's a huge gain there, but a lot of it was due to the No. 8 car [Earnhardt] having their problems and finishing on back there [38th]," said Busch. "Tonight really worked to close things up all the way around. The bottom line is that we do not just have to focus on catching Dale Jr.; it's becoming a tight battle between a lot of teams hoping to make the cut."
With 1,919 points after Saturday's race, Busch trails 13th-place Jamie McMurray, the Pepsi 400 race winner, by 72 points and he is 60 points behind Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman, as the teams close on the September cutoff race at Richmond, Va.
Busch started Saturday's race in 16th after rain ended Friday's qualifying session and the field was set by car owners' points. He cracked the top-10 for the first time on lap 27 and would remain a fixture there for the remainder of the race.
The Miller Lite Dodge took the lead for the first time on lap 78 when Busch passed leader Clint Bowyer, who was experiencing electrical problems. Busch held the point until he pitted under green for a scheduled stop on lap 109. He assumed the lead again when the pit stops sequenced around on lap 112.
When the race's fifth caution flag flew on lap 115 for a Sterling Marlin crash, Busch's dominating run at the front ended. Strategy entered the picture with only 45 laps remaining. While all of the lead-lap cars stayed out during that yellow, that wasn't the case 15 laps later, when the sixth caution flew for a five-car crash on the backstretch.
Most of the lead-lap cars hit pit road for their final stops on lap 134. Crew chief Pat Tryson called for four tires and no chassis changes and the crew dished out a 13.244-second stop. Casey Mears did not pit and assumed the lead with several other drivers opting for only two tires. Busch was sixth on the lap 138 restart, with brother Kyle directly behind him.
McMurray, penalized early in the race for passing below the yellow line, staged an impressive comeback and was in the mix for the final 30 laps. Making the high line around the track work, he was in the lead with five laps remaining, as the field went two-wide, six deep in the waning laps.
Kyle Busch and McMurray were side-by-side during the final two laps around the mammoth 2.5-mile track, with Carl Edwards pushing McMurray and Kurt Busch helping his younger brother.
At the finish, it was McMurray edging the younger Busch for the win by the second-closest margin in NASCAR history. Kurt Busch was third.
"Everybody was real strong at the end," Busch said of the race's finish. "We expected everybody to be out there three wide and never lifting. That's what's so exciting at these plate tracks. For me to finish third, it feels great to do that. It would have been great to win it, but we're real happy with that. To be able to be in position at the end and to be able to try to push Kyle to Victory Lane was very gratifying. I had my foot through the floorboard and I had Jeff Gordon behind me.
"I thought we could hook up and go. I just didn't quite have the run the 26 [McMurray] did. The 26 car has shown strength at these tracks. He just hasn't shown patience. Tonight it turned out in his favor with a short run at the end."
Busch was quick to pass along accolades to Tryson, who was leading the team for only the third race.
"I love the chance we have to work together," Busch said. "Pat Tryson is an experienced crew chief and I certainly enjoy working with him. He's confident in his pit calls. This was the first car he got his hands on. Our Sonoma car and Loudon car had already been built and setup and put on the trailer. This one here he was able to put some ideas into. We'll be able to go to the wind tunnel with our Chicago car this week and double-check where we are.
"It's going to begin to roll. I'm happy about that. I can't express my thanks about him being able to come over to this team. I think we can put a good thing together. We're excited to have him. I think he's excited to be here and Miller Lite wants us to do better. This was a good sign of that."
Tryson was equally enthused about his position with Busch and Penske Racing.
"Kurt drove his heart out and the guys did a great job in the pits tonight," Tryson said. "We need to stack up a string of races like this and that is our goal. We're ready to hunker down and are looking to keep the momentum rolling on down the road. It was a good night for Kurt and our Miller Lite Dodge team."
Next weekend on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule is Chicagoland Speedway and the USG Sheetrock 400. The 267-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. CDT on Sunday and will feature live coverage by TNT and MRN Radio. It is the final race this year for TNT.