FONTANA, Calif. (Sept. 2, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch finished ninth in Sunday night's Sharp AQUOS 500 at California Speedway, climbing from 12th to 11th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings with only next Saturday night's...
FONTANA, Calif. (Sept. 2, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch finished ninth in Sunday night's Sharp AQUOS 500 at California Speedway, climbing from 12th to 11th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings with only next Saturday night's race in Richmond, Va., remaining to determine this year's Chase candidates.
"We're certainly not totally out of the woods just yet, but it feels good to climb up a spot and have someone else as a buffer back to 13th now," said Busch, who jumped in front of Kevin Harvick, who finished 14th in the California race. "I feel pretty solid. You know there's a guy behind us now to give us a little bit of cushion. We're only 20 points out of the next spot and 25 points out of ninth, so it's going to be an interesting race in Richmond, but for us we feel like our short track program is where it needs to be. We finished fifth there in the spring, so we're looking forward to a good race there next weekend."
Entering next weekend's showdown at Richmond to determine the Chase's participants, Busch has a 13-point advantage over bubble-sitter Kevin Harvick and a 141-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is on the outside looking in. He is 20 points behind 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. and 25 points in arrears to the ninth-place Clint Bowyer.
Busch started from the pole position at the 2-mile California track and led in the early going. His Miller Lite Dodge suffered a "loose in, tight in the middle and loose off" handling condition from lap 40 on. Even after his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing team removed a spring rubber on a lap 113 pit stop, the loose condition continued.
Busch, Tryson and the Miller Lite crew decided to roll the dice with a lengthy pit stop on lap 165 during the race's ninth caution period. The 17.36-second stop saw the team do major work on the right rear suspension, opening the shock absorber and making substantial wedge adjustments.
With 80 laps remaining, Busch was mired in 23rd, but the change made to the car worked for the good and he started picking off cars one by one as he headed to the front. He was back up to 18th when the race's 10th yellow flag flew on lap 174, and he was 15th after the track's record-tying 11th caution flag on lap 179.
Busch was 10th on lap 200 and he passed Kasey Kahne on lap 225 for the ninth position. Even though he was closing in on eighth-place Brian Vickers by almost two-tenths of a second per lap in the final laps, he ran out of time to advance any further.
"The night was really interesting," Busch said. "I felt like our car, as the race grew longer, we just kept getting looser. I'm not sure what added to that, but maybe we were disguised by our good run at Michigan, but it was 60 degrees out at Michigan and it was 160 (degrees) today. We were just on the loose side of things. The car started off OK, just every lap we made we kept getting worse and worse. We changed everything under the sun to make the Miller Lite Dodge better, but all-in-all, we'll take this finish in the top 10. That's what consistency is all about."
Next Saturday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Speedway has a scheduled 7:30 p.m. EDT starting time. The 400-lap, 300-mile battle will feature live coverage by ESPN-ABC and MRN Radio.