Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch managed to finish 22nd in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, his first race with new crew chief Pat Tryson, but the 2004 NASCAR champion left the California road course with extremely positive first impressions of...
Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch managed to finish 22nd in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, his first race with new crew chief Pat Tryson, but the 2004 NASCAR champion left the California road course with extremely positive first impressions of his team's new leader.
"I was super impressed with Pat's leadership abilities and we really have tremendous confidence with him up on the box calling the shots during the race," says Busch, who remains 16th in the NEXTEL Cup point standings, 171 points out of "Chase eligibility" with 10 races remaining to make the cut. "In Sunday's race at Sonoma, we had a set strategy but all that changed when we got tagged by the 42 car [eventual race winner Juan Pablo Montoya] and wound up way on back in the pack.
"Pat showed that he is a veteran leader out there and was able to quickly adapt to another game plan. Who would have ever thought that the last 40 laps of that race would be run totally caution-free? If there had been another caution and a few more laps run under the yellow, we could have possibly slipped back in there and stolen us a top-10 finish."
Busch started 14th in last Sunday's race and he held down the seventh spot for most of the race's first third. The team's original strategy was to go the distance on only two pit stops, dividing the 110-lap race into thirds. The team made its first stop on lap 36 and the original schedule called for Busch's final stop to occur between laps 72-75. However, that all changed after the race returned to green on lap 59 after the race's sixth caution period.
Busch had been battling Montoya for the ninth position for several laps, with the two drivers swapping spots back and forth. That scuffle ended on lap 61 when Busch led Montoya into the Turn 11 hairpin turn. Montoya tagged Busch's right-rear quarter panel, sending the No. 2 Dodge into a spin. By the time he could regain control and get back in the running, Busch had dropped from ninth to 23rd.
"Pat saw that we'd fallen really behind and had the foresight to change courses and try to get us out of the hole we had dug ourselves into," Busch said of Tryson's call to hit pit road again for tires and fuel on lap 68 under the race's seventh and final caution period. "He was willing to change from our original strategy and take the gamble to get even more out of the day than we really deserved."
Busch fell to 25th after the lap 70 restart, but with other drivers hitting pit road for their final fuel stops, he suddenly found himself back up to eighth with only 20 laps remaining in the race.
"As it turned out, we didn't get the caution laps we needed and we had to hit pit road again for another splash of fuel," Busch said. "We wound up finishing about where we would have if we'd stayed the course with the original strategy. Even after having to pit again, we came back out running right there with the 12 car [teammate Ryan Newman, who finished 20th] at the end.
"Pat is a great big-picture thinker and a super strategist and that is a much-needed addition to our team," said Busch. "It is a big load taken off my back when I can focus on just driving the car and have the utmost confidence in the guy calling the shots on top of the box. Pat will be a great leader of our team and he's already performed impressively in my eyes.
"While we are moving forward and Pat is getting entrenched as our leader, we certainly need to point out what a great job that Roy McCauley did for our team as crew chief until his wife became ill, and what an incredible piece of work Troy Raker was able to provide as an interim crew chief. I have tremendous respect for Roy and Troy and I am so proud that they will continue to be major players within our team."
Busch, Tryson and the Miller Lite crew now turn their focus to New Hampshire International Speedway for this weekend's LENOX Industrial Tools 300. Busch's career Cup record on the 1.058-mile flat oval boasts two wins, four top-five finishes and five top-10s in 12 races. He started fifth and won in his lone NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start at the track in 2000.
"We've had a lot of success at New Hampshire through the years and we're looking forward to racing the new Car of Tomorrow there this weekend," Busch said. "We were really strong with our COT cars at Richmond and out on the flat track at Phoenix. We look to be just as strong or even stronger this weekend up at Loudon [NHIS] and really turn things around."