Kurt Busch Wins, Bud Team Third In "Chase" Race No. 1 Earnhardt Jr. and Busch now tied for points lead Kurt Busch won round No. 1 of the 10-race Chase for the NEXTEL Cup Championship by dominating Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New ...
Kurt Busch Wins, Bud Team Third In "Chase" Race No. 1
Earnhardt Jr. and Busch now tied for points lead
Kurt Busch won round No. 1 of the 10-race Chase for the NEXTEL Cup Championship by dominating Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Busch led 155 of 300 laps to claim the New Hampshire sweep. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished third, their 10th top-three of the year and third in the last four races. Dale Jr. led once for two laps and remained in the top-10 for most of the afternoon. The finish was his career best at New Hampshire, improving on the fifth-place he scored in this race last year. More importantly, Dale Jr.'s quest for his first NEXTEL Cup championship got off to a rousing start, as he and Busch now share the lead in the championship standings with 5,210 points. Jeff Gordon is now in third (-9 pts.), Matt Kenseth fourth (-10), and Jimmie Johnson fifth (-30). Tony Stewart was the big loser of the "Chase" drivers, falling four spots in the standings to eighth with a 39th-place finish.
With Bud Pole Qualifying rained out and Dale Jr. starting third, the Budweiser team strategically spent most of their first and only practice on Friday in race trim, guessing that Saturday's practices would be washed out by forecasted rain. As a result, Dale Jr. was one of only a few drivers to have turned laps in a race-ready car prior to today's event, and it showed as the Bud Chevy raced among the top-10 for much of the day, falling back only to early variations of pit strategy (many teams opted for two-tire stops while the Bud team took four). The No. 8 Chevy wasn't mired in traffic for long, as quick pit stops and a sporty chassis - this particular one being used the first time all year - helped Junior break back into the top-10 by lap 112 and move into fifth by lap 138. He never left the top-five for the rest of the afternoon, even scooting into the lead for a couple of laps just past the halfway point. Quick work on their final pit stop put the Bud team in fourth on a lap-280 restart, and Dale Jr. passed Jamie McMurray in the final 20 circuits to earn the top-three finish.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"Great race car. I've got to hand it to the Budweiser team today. We kind of guessed on the set-up and ended up getting a top-five out of it ... I was really worried about starting the Chase for the Championship with a poor finish, but we got a good top-five today, so I'm pretty happy about that. We came here (to New Hampshire) last time, and it was horrible. I guess everybody knows that story (Dale Jr. was suffering from severe burns to his legs and neck after a sports-car accident the week before). This time was a hell of a lot better. We kind of used the same set-up that we used here earlier in the year, but this car seemed to be much better. We didn't have much practice on Friday, so it left everybody doing some guesswork. We seem to be pretty good in those kinds of situations ... Our car was good, but Kurt's was awesome. We would've had to come in here and change the springs and shocks to have had a chance to beat him, but still a good day for the Bud team."
On his confidence in this Chase for the Championship:
"My confidence really began to grow at Bristol. (Winning that race) was instantly a huge jump in confidence after what was a pretty awful summer. When my legs were hurt, I didn't really want to be in the race car. But I finally healed up enough to where it wasn't a problem, and then we won Bristol, and it was like a huge jolt. Richmond last week (finished second) was inspirational, too, and I've got that drive back that you definitely have to have to win the championship. I think we're going to close out the season on a streak that will be pretty spectacular, and hopefully with a championship. I think whoever wins this championship will finish in the top 20 in each of the last 10 races, and I don't see any reason why we can't do it."
Best Radio Chatter:
Chatter was kept to a minimum today, with the Bud team all business in this crucial start to the Chase for the Championship. Dale Jr. took his first and only lead on lap 183 - a lead he was only able to hold for two laps before Busch retook the point.
Dale Jr.: "I'm a little bit free, but that's all right."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Yeah, just ride behind him (Busch) for awhile and don't wear yourself out."
Dale Jr.: "Yeah, that's what I was about to do, but I'm going to try to keep up with him for awhile."
In third on lap 243:
Dale Jr.: "I'm going to change my line a little bit, see if that helps. (After one lap) Whoa, it doesn't! Never mind!"
On lap 265, with the Bud team having already made its final pit stop:
Dale Jr.: "I'm nervous about what position I'm in."
Tony Jr.: "You're sitting fourth and you got the 42 (McMurray) and the 17 (Kenseth) in front of you. You're doing excellent."