KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Sept. 30, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch had the car to beat for much of Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway, leading the most laps until weather issues came into play. At the end of the day, Busch was...
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Sept. 30, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch had the car to beat for much of Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway, leading the most laps until weather issues came into play.
At the end of the day, Busch was pleased to come away with an 11th-place finish.
"Since we made the Chase, an engine problem bit us at New Hampshire and a tire got us at Dover last week," said Busch, who led three times for a race-high 76 laps and picked up the 10 bonus points for doing so. "I guess it's only par for course that the weather would take a potential win away here today. But we were 24th when the big storm came through and we wound up finishing 11th, so I guess you won't see us complain too much."
Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Dodge team started 12th, and wasted little time showing the strength of their "P.T. Special"; the car Busch drove to victory last month at Pocono. After only three laps, he was up to fifth. He was fourth on lap 12 when the race's first caution flew for rain.
The rain became heavier, forcing NASCAR officials to red-flag the event at 1:31 p.m., after 15 laps had been completed. The shower was brief and track drying began almost immediately. The drivers were back in their cars at 2:15 p.m. with their engines fired again.
The race returned to green on lap 19, but only nine laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the rear of Kyle Busch's Chevrolet, sending the No. 5 car slamming into the turn 3 wall. Kurt Busch was up to third as the day's second yellow flag flew.
Busch really showed his car's strength when he powered around Matt Kenseth to take the lead on lap 46. It marked the first of three occasions that the Miller Lite Dodge would pace the field.
Busch ran through a series of yellow flag stops under the fourth caution period on lap 60 to be behind leader Jeff Gordon and second-place Kenseth on the lap 64 restart. By lap 77, however, it was the "Blue Deuce" back in the lead.
The leaders pitted once again on lap 90, when Robby Gordon spun down the backstretch to bring out the race's sixth of 12 caution flags. Only seven laps after the race restarted, the seventh yellow flag flew for debris.
Busch was the leader, with Kenseth second and Jimmie Johnson third on the lap 104 restart. Tony Stewart moved up to second, but his charge had leveled off at the race's midpoint [lap 134], as Busch enjoyed a 0.865-second lead.
With dark clouds rolling in and adverse weather conditions only a matter of time, Busch was forced to pit for fuel and tires on lap 142. Stewart, who was getting considerably better fuel mileage, was able to inherit the lead and hold the point for six additional laps, until a massive thunderstorm struck the track and forced NASCAR officials to display the red flag and park the cars on pit road for the second time of the day.
While Stewart and the other drivers who gambled on fuel headed back to shelter from the strong storm and hoped the race would be called official, Busch found himself running 24th and a lap down. He and his Miller Lite Dodge crew members huddled in their team transporter, monitoring the situation, confident the race would be restarted.
Busch's wishes came true when the rain stopped and the drying process concluded, allowing the race to be restarted at 6:06 p.m., 2 hours and 13 minutes after the red flag was displayed. NASCAR officials relayed the plan, the race would now conclude officially at the lap 225 mark. Pit road was opened immediately, with Stewart and the other cars running low on fuel able to make their stops with no problems. When they hit pit road, Busch was among a group that included Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who returned to the tail end of the lead lap.
Only one circuit after the lap 156 restart, Ken Schrader spun sideways in front of the frontrunners, stacking up the cars. Stewart was not quick enough on his brakes and got into the rear of Martin Truex Jr., who plowed into the rear of Kenseth's Ford. Truex and Kenseth saw their competitive chances fall by the side, with Stewart sustaining damage to his car's left-front fender and wheel-well area.
Stewart elected to stay on the track. When the green flag waved, tire smoke flew as he went through the turns. Many along pit road expected NASCAR to display the black flag to the No. 20 car. The smoke lessened for a lap or two, but on lap 176 the tire blew. Busch was running two cars behind Stewart at the time. When Tony Rains made a successful move to avoid Stewart's "parked" Chevrolet, Busch had nowhere to go and rammed the back of Stewart's car, sending it into a spin that collected Carl Edwards.
The ensuing carnage caused the race's 10th caution and during that yellow-flag period, NASCAR officials notified the teams they had cut the official distance to 210 laps.
The impact damaged the left front quarter-panel area on Busch's Dodge and, after getting a "visual" from younger brother Kyle, Kurt Busch hit pit road on lap 180 to bend the sheet metal back off the tire.
Only a lap after the lap 184 restart, John Menard, Jamie McMurray and Denny Hamlin crashed to bring out the race's 11th caution. There were no takers among the lead-lap cars to hit pit road with so few laps remaining.
Busch was 13th on the lap 188 restart and was able to advance two spots when Juan Paul Montoya shredded a tire on lap 207 to bring out the race's 12th and final caution period.
Faced with sunset at hand and with no lights at this venue, NASCAR officials decided to forego the normal green-white-checker finish and paraded the field around the final laps under the yellow to call the race official at the conclusion of 210 laps.
The controversy wasn't over, however. Greg Biffle had passed Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 174. When Montoya cut his rear tires and spewed debris all over the backstretch, Biffle anticipated a green-white-checker restart. He also knew he was going to be low on fuel. Indeed, as he came through turns 3 and 4 on lap 210 the engine sputtered. He dropped down off the banking, so the gas wouldn't run away from the pickup in his fuel cell
Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer and Johnson believed that Biffle's car was not running the minimum speed and they chose to pass him as the cars came down to the checkered flag.
Officials ruled that Biffle's car was under power and maintaining a reasonable -- with that being the key word -- speed behind the pace car. Biffle was ruled the winner and didn't understand why anybody had any doubt about it.
Bowyer was credited with second, while Johnson finished third. Casey Mears took fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth.
With seven races remaining in the 2007 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup championship, Johnson possesses the lead with 5,506 points. Hendrick teammate Gordon is second with 5,500. Bowyer is third with 5,492. Stewart fell to fourth and is now 117 behind Johnson; Harvick fifth, 126 out of first; Kyle Busch sixth, 136 back; Edwards seventh, minus 142 to Johnson; Truex eighth, 158 out of the lead; and Kurt Busch ninth, 177 points out of first. Burton is 10th [-186 points to first], Kenseth 11th [-219] and Hamlin 12th [-248].
"I thought we had a really fast race car, but it just didn't pan out on the fuel strategy," Busch said back at the team transporter after the race. "Around the half-way point, when the rain came, what it did is it took all the guys that were about 15th to 25th and put them up front. It was weird how everything got spread apart.
"My spotter told me that the 20 car [Stewart] had a bad tire rub on the restart and to keep an eye out. He really started backing up and probably should have hit pit road. I had nowhere to go and we just got into Tony (Stewart) when he had a flat tire. That took our chances away at coming up through the pack. Eleventh is all right, though, especially when you look back at the fact that we were way back in 24th when the storms came.
"Talladega is next weekend and anything can happen there. We'll just continue on and try to get all we can during the final seven races."
This weekend's schedule at Talladega calls for practice on Friday from 11 a.m. to noon and from 2:45-3:30 p.m. The single round of qualifying on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. will allocate all 43 starting positions for Sunday's race and all cars will be impounded after qualifying. Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway [188 laps/500.08 miles] has a 2 p.m. EDT starting time. ESPN and MRN Radio will produce live broadcasts of the event.