Kurt Busch Secures Top-Five Finish in Auto Club 500 Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch started fourth and finished fifth in Sunday's Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway. He never fell any further back than seventh among the frontrunners and led...
Kurt Busch Secures Top-Five Finish in Auto Club 500
Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch started fourth and finished fifth in Sunday's Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway. He never fell any further back than seventh among the frontrunners and led laps along the way. The end result saw the 2004 NASCAR Champion climb eight spots up to third in the Sprint Cup point standings.
"It was just a super solid run all around for our Miller Lite Dodge Team," a beaming Busch said after crawling from his car out on pit road after the race. "They park the top-five finishers out here on pit road after the races and it's been a long, long time since we've been among that group at one of these intermediate-sized tracks.
"It was a good night for us," Busch continued as he walked back toward the garage area. "I felt that our car had a great setup in it. Our crew on pit road did a great job on our stops with the Miller Lite Dodge. We're happy. A top-five finish is good. We need to make better adjustments during the race and maybe get a little bit more power down the straightaways and we'll be right there. (It was) an excellent turnaround over the off-season.
"It's only one race and there's a long way to go, but it was a good solid run for us. We ran in the top five all day and came home fifth. That's more than we expected. I think some of the off-season changes have helped. It's a good way to get a report card early. Still, we have to keep working on it, making good adjustments and putting ourselves in position to win."
"That was a good run for us," crew chief Pat Tryson added. "We ran in the top-five all day and finished fifth. We're doing some stuff different than we did last year, so it's a pretty good way to start the season. We still have a lot to learn with this car, but two top 10s to start the season, that's good momentum. We still have more to do, but we've made a big step from where we were last year. Hopefully, we can keep tweaking on it and get ourselves where we can win some of these races."
Busch started fourth in a race that was slowed by three separate caution periods for passing rain showers. The race had only five laps in the record book when the first precipitation hit the 2.0-mile oval. An extended yellow saw the race not return to green until Lap 22.
Busch was fourth on the restart, but managed to claw his way up to second only four laps later. Jimmie Johnson, the local Southern California favorite son, was leading and continued to be the man to beat through the early stages of the race.
The No. 2 Dodge Charger was a little on the tight side for much of the first half of the race and the Tryson-led "blue deuce" crew used air pressure and track bar adjustments in their battle against the handling woes.
A quick 13.230-second pit stop on Lap 42, under the second caution of the race, had Busch off pit road first, with the lead and with five bonus points for doing so when the race returned to green on Lap 46.
Busch and Johnson battled side by side for three laps before the No. 48 Chevy regained the lead on Lap 48. The next 25 laps proved to be dramatic as Busch reported that his car's water and oil temperatures were starting to rise rapidly. It would be the first of three occasions that overheating problems threatened the team during the race.
Fortunately for Busch and crew, scheduled pit stops occurred and allowed the over-the-wall team members to clean the grill and pull tape off the grill openings, which successfully remedied the potential overheating issues.
Busch maintained the fourth spot in the running order at the midpoint of the race (Lap 125 of 250). At that time, it was Greg Biffle leading, with Jeff Gordon second and Johnson third during another round of green-flag pit stops.
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth began flexing his muscle during the last half of the race, passing Busch for fourth on Lap 130 and closing in on the top three competitors. His job was made easier when a pit stop under the third caution of the race was fast enough to put the No. 17 Ford into the lead for the Lap 151 restart.
The Busch Brothers, Kurt and younger brother Kyle, found themselves battling each other for the fourth spot after the next restart on Lap 178. The younger Busch chose to make it almost four-wide negotiating lapped traffic and evasive action by David Ragan prevented a sure multi-car pileup. The spirited battle between the brothers continued for several laps, but Kyle finally used his Toyota horsepower to clear Kurt on Lap 191.
The running order with 50 laps remaining saw Gordon with the lead, Biffle in second, Kenseth third, Kyle Busch fourth, Johnson fifth and Kurt Busch sixth. Denny Hamlin was closing in and looked to be a top-five threat.
Kevin Harvick's crash in Turn 1 on Lap 208 set up a 35-lap sprint to the finish. During the yellow, Busch's No. 12 Penske Racing teammate, David Stremme, stayed out while all the leaders hit pit road. A smart move by the Roy McCauley-led team earned Stremme the five points for leading the race and saw the crew top off with fuel to insure they could go the distance before the race returned to green.
Kenseth led on the Lap 215 restart, with Gordon second, Kyle Busch third, Hamlin fourth, Kurt Busch fifth and Carl Edwards sixth. Kurt was able to split traffic and get around Hamlin for fourth on Lap 216, but Hamlin got back around three laps later.
The Miller Lite Dodge faced a most unusual condition after the recent track bar and air pressure adjustments as Kurt radioed in, "it's loose in, loose in the middle, loose off - just loose everywhere," with 30 laps to go. Additional suspense was brought into the picture when he reported that "all three gauges were pegged out in red" (extreme overheating conditions) due to trash gathering on the grill with 15 laps remaining.
The loose handling condition saw Kurt saw on the steering wheel and avoid three near spins exiting Turn 4 in the final laps. Biffle was able to muster a charge to get around both Kurt and Hamlin on Lap 246, relegating Kurt to sixth. But with three laps to go, Kurt made the pass on Hamlin for fifth and was able to hang on for his fourth career top-five finish here in 14 starts.
At the finish, it was Kenseth taking the win by 1.484 seconds over Gordon. Kenseth, who was winless during the 2008 season, picked up his second win in-a-row and became the first driver to win the first two races of the season since Gordon did it in the late 90's at Daytona and Rockingham, N.C.
Kyle Busch finished third, with Biffle fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. Hamlin, Edwards, Tony Stewart, Johnson and Brian Vickers rounded out today's top-10 finishers. Stremme came home with a very respectable 13th -place tally, finishing in the lead lap, while Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. finished 23rd, completing 249 laps.
After two races, Kenseth leads the standings with 385 points. Gordon is second with 304, with Kurt Busch third (294), Stewart fourth (294) and Biffle fifth (268).
The Sprint Cup tour now heads up the road some 230 miles to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next Sunday's running of the Shelby 427.