It took Kurt Busch longer than he'd hoped to get back to victory lane, but when he finally did it, he did it in record setting fashion. Busch led a track-high 175 laps to claim the checkered flag in the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. It was...
It took Kurt Busch longer than he'd hoped to get back to victory lane, but when he finally did it, he did it in record setting fashion.
Busch led a track-high 175 laps to claim the checkered flag in the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. It was his first win in 52 races.
"It's been a long dry spell," said Busch, who eclipsed Jeff Gordon's record of 164 laps led at Pocono. "I just couldn't be happier to drive this car. It's all because of (crew chief) Pat Tryson. I'm going to name this car the Pat Tryson Special. It was an awesome day for this team."
Busch started on the outside of the front row, but immediately grabbed the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and didn't look back.
"It was just that good of a car," said Busch, who led 90 of the first 100 laps. "I think the set up ended up right where we started the race. We were a little loose to start and then we tightened it up and then we freed it up there at the end. It was just a stellar performance by this car and all of our guys."
Busch had the dominant car through the race. He led 90 of the first 100 laps but dropped back through the field when his pit crew stumbled through a yellow flag stop with 60 laps left in the race. Reed Sorenson inherited the lead when he elected to skip his pit stop but Busch charged his way back through the field and took the lead back with 47 laps to go. His team made up for its earlier miscue with a solid effort on their last stop with 30 laps to go.
"It was just a lot of hard work by everybody on the Miller Lite Dodge Team," Tryson said. "Obviously Kurt did an awesome job. He's really good at this place. I can't say enough about him. Hopefully we get some more before the year is over and get ourselves back in the chase."
It was Busch's first win of the season and second since joining Penske Racing in 2006. After winning the championship in 2004 and finishing 10th in 2005, Busch missed the Chase for the Championship last year. But he is charging back to championship form and feels like his team has found its groove at just the right time.
"I feel like a new born kid again," said Busch, who jumped from 16th to 12th in the past five races. "We're ready to run for this chase."
After stating earlier in the week that he wasn't concerned about being on the bubble for the Chase for the Championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped out of the final playoff spot today despite a second place finish at Pocono.
Earnhardt started on the pole for the first time in nearly five years, but gave up the lead to Busch on the first lap of the race. He battled an ill-handling race car early in the race and spun to bring out the caution on lap 122. His team made a shock change during the ensuing pit stop and then went for a two tire stop under caution with 60 laps to go to get back near the leaders. He grabbed the lead from Reed Sorenson with 56 laps to go, but surrendered it to Busch nine laps later.
"It was long," said Earnhardt, who has gone a career-high 47 races without a win. "We had a real bad handling car at the start of the race. Even though we were up in the top-10, the car was just wicked tight. We changed a shock and ended up at the rear of the field. I'm real proud of my team - Tony Jr. and the whole team for figuring out a way to get back up there. It was looking pretty bad there at one point."
Earnhardt salvaged a great finish on a day where he could have lost significant ground to Busch for the final spot in the Chase.
"He did what he had to do and so did we," said Earnhardt, who trails Busch by seven points with five races left before the Chase cutoff. "I enjoyed the battle of the beverages. We're a good race team. We're going to be fine."
Denny Hamlin, who swept both events at Pocono last year and felt like he had the best car in the rain-shortened event in June, finished third.
"It was an up and down day," said Hamlin, who picked up his first top five finish since his win at Loudon four races ago. "We stayed near the top five all day, but we didn't find what we needed (to win). It was a solid finish for us. It's what we needed to get back on track."
Points leader Jeff Gordon won the rain-shortened event at Pocono in June. He started today's race in 11th place and had a solid day that ended with a fourth place finish.
"We actually had a stronger car than last time we were her," said Gordon, who led 26 laps at Pocono in June. "If the 2 car didn't exist today than maybe some of us had a chance at winning. He was - wow. All I can say is wow. We knew we couldn't win, but we made some adjustments and I was coming at the end. We just ran out of laps."
Jimmie Johnson was happy to claim his first top five finish in four races. Johnson failed to finish the past two races and had dropped from fourth to ninth in the championship standings during the past three races. His solid finish at Pocono boosted him up to seventh in the standings.
"It's been a tough summer for us," said Johnson, who has been without his crew chief Chad Knaus, who was suspended for six races before Loudon. "I was proud of the team today. We stayed focused on the right things. We're one step closer to the Chase. We'll keep our eye on the championship."
Clint Bowyer was forced to start at the back of the field after making an engine change after qualifying. He rallied for an eighth place finish to maintain his 10th place in the standings.
P.J. Jones filled the seat for Robby Gordon after Gordon was parked by NASCAR because of his actions in the closing laps of yesterday's Busch Series race in Montreal. Gordon refused to yield his position on the green-white-checkered finish and didn't answer the black flag. NASCAR said that there may still be further sanctions. Jones finished two laps down in 37th place.