After waiting nearly two full days to finally get the race started, Kurt Busch needed extra time to claim the checkered flag in the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The race was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon,...
After waiting nearly two full days to finally get the race started, Kurt Busch needed extra time to claim the checkered flag in the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The race was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but heavy rain in the area on Sunday and Monday delayed the start until Tuesday morning. When the green flag finally came out 45 hours later, fans were treated to the multi-groove racing that makes Michigan one of the driver's favorite stops on the circuit.
Busch took the lead at the mid way point of the race and then dominated the second half, leading 92 laps. He held off the field in a green-white-checkered finish to claim his second win of the season.
"It was tough," said Busch, who snapped a 52 race winless skid at Pocono two weeks ago. "It was a hard fought win for the Miller Dodge. This feels good. It's just fantastic."
Busch admitted that the win made it worth waiting for two extra days to get the race in.
"We love to come into Michigan and race our cars," said Busch, who also won at Michigan in 2003. "I've got to thank the fans that stuck it out until Tuesday. It just feels great. This was a great win -- it backs up what we did at Pocono."
The race started under caution to let the cars dry up some of the moisture on the track and then NASCAR brought the cars to pit road after 11 laps to wait for a heavy blanket of fog to lift off of the track. The cars returned to the track after a half hour delay.
Busch wasn't happy with his car during the first green flag run and used the competition caution on lap 31 to make adjustments. The car responded and he jumped up to seventh by lap 51.
"We didn't start off very good on the first run," said Busch's crew chief Pat Tryson. "But we made some adjustments and from then on, we were pretty good all day."
The win moved Busch to within 33 points of Martin Truex Jr. for 11th place in the championship standings. It also gave him a 163 point cushion on Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the final spot before the cut-off.
"It's great to go to victory lane and celebrate," said Busch, who won the first Nextel Cup championship under the new format. "Right now, we're pretty strong, but we still have more work to do. We're not going to put the cart before the horse. We still need to get into the Chase."
Truex minimized the points damage by charging to a second place finish. He qualified 14th, but had to start the race at the back of the field after making a motor change. He came through the field during the first half of the race but then had a clutch problem on pit road during a mid-race pit stop. His team made a two-tire stop on a caution late in the race and he made a furious charge to the top in the closing laps to grab second place.
"It was a great day," said Truex, who also finished second in the June race at MIS. "My guys did a good job today. I was happy with the car. We got some clean air (at the end) and that thing went to digging. It was a great run for us."
Jimmie Johnson was happy to have crew chief Chad Knaus back from suspension after six weeks. He started seventh and after challenging for the lead early in the race, finished third.
"It wasn't bad," Johnson said about his car. "We were competitive. At the end, I thought we really had the right strategy. I just didn't have enough time, but it was still a great performance."
He admitted that having Knaus back at the track will help get the team ready for the final three races before the Chase for the Chase for the Championship.
"It was nice to hear him back on the radio," said Johnson, who climbed up one spot to sixth in the standings. "It was great having him back up on the box today."
Matt Kenseth continued his string of success at MIS. He started 21st and quickly made his way to the front of the field, taking the lead after green flag stops cycled through on lap 77. He led 31 laps and finished fourth while Denny Hamlin picked up his 11th top five finish of the season.
"We had a great day," said Hamlin, whose previous best finish at MIS was a ninth place run as a rookie last August. "Our team just keeps getting stronger. If our team keeps knocking down these finishes, we're going to be a championship contender. I'm pretty excited."
Earnhardt Jr. was also forced to start at the back of the field after replacing his motor. He made up the difference quickly, moving into the top 20 within the first 35 laps and then into the top 10 before the midway point of the race. He was in the top five when he overshot his pit stall on a green flag stop with 32 laps to go. The mistake cost him 10 spots on the race track, but he rallied for a 12th place finish and moved past Ryan Newman into 13th place in the standings.
"I made a big mistake on pit road," Earnhardt said. "We ran good. We came from the back and passed some cars. That was fun."
Points leader Jeff Gordon started on the pole and grabbed the lead back from Greg Biffle when he took two tires and fuel during a competition caution stop on lap 31. Gordon surrendered the lead to Johnson 15 laps later. He fought an ill-handling race car until making track bar and air pressure adjustments during a green flag pit stop on lap 73.
The changes obviously helped. Gordon jumped back into the top five. He lost some time on pit road late in the race when his crew was forced to reattach a loose fin on the rear window. The delay cost Gordon track position but he skipped pitting on an ensuing caution and jumped back into second.
Gordon was running fifth with 10 laps to go when he spun in front of Kenseth on the front stretch and brought out the sixth of seven cautions in the race. Despite finishing 27th, he still picked up enough points to clinch his spot in the Chase for the Championship.
"I was loose and (Kenseth) got a run," Gordon told his crew chief on the radio. "I was trying to get out of his way, but he didn't want to be patient."
Greg Biffle started on the outside of the front row and led the first green flag lap of the day. He held the lead until the competition caution dropped on lap 31. He was battling with Kyle Busch for 13th place in the closing laps when the two cars came together. Biffle spun and brought out the final caution of the day.
Ricky Rudd finished 33rd in what may have made his final start at MIS. He met with the media on Tuesday morning to discuss his retirement plans. He expects 2007 to be his final full season on the circuit, but hasn't ruled out running a limited schedule of races next year.
"I decided I wanted to call it quits, and the only way I would get out of a rocking chair would be for a limited schedule, competitive, winning operation, ready to go, and for some unique situations they needed someone to help fill in the gaps," said Rudd, whose 989 career starts are the second most in the sport's history behind Richard Petty.
"If that was with the right situation where you weren't committed to running an entire schedule, you can kind of pick and choose your own races, and, again, it was a team that would be running for the full year, I would take a look at that. I'm not out looking for a job right now."