RICHMOND, Va. (May 6, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch fought back from an early-race spin and a disastrous pit stop that left him a lap down to finish fifth in Sunday's weather-delayed Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 at ...
RICHMOND, Va. (May 6, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch fought back from an early-race spin and a disastrous pit stop that left him a lap down to finish fifth in Sunday's weather-delayed Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Still, there was a bit of disappointment in his voice as he cooled off on pit road immediately after the race.
"I'm very disappointed we let that race get away," said Busch, who rallied to lead the 400-lap event as late as at lap 279. "I'm very disappointed the Miller Lite Dodge didn't win today, but that's why they call it racing.
"We've got to be smart on pit road, too. We had a good car and the team worked well on pit stops. We just decided to pit at the wrong time. I've thrown this Richmond race away way too many times.
"It was a good day. We should bump up in points, and we're looking forward to next week's Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington."
Busch started the race from the 33rd spot and was trying to avoid a spinning Casey Mears on lap 5 when he spun after being tagged in the rear by Reed Sorenson. Adding insult to injury was the fact that during the ensuing yellow flag pit stop, a lug nut got caught in the air gun while Jay Hackney was changing the right-front tire. Only nine laps into the race, Busch found himself running last -- 43rd in the field -- and a lap down to the leaders.
Busch lined up on the inside of then leader Jeff Gordon for the lap 12 restart. He then kept pace with Gordon for the next 28 laps, until a competition yellow flew on lap 40. Busch received the "lucky dog" free pass and rejoined the field in 42nd spot -- the last car on the lead lap -- for the lap 47 restart.
Busch and his Troy Raker-led team opted to stay out during the race's third caution period and were up to 30th for the lap 63 restart, After a lap 105 pit stop under the race's fourth of 14 yellow flags, Busch was up to 22nd for the lap 110 restart. He had climbed to 16th on lap 125, after the fifth caution period.
The Miller Lite Dodge Avenger really came to life after that restart and for the next 75 laps Busch proved to have the fastest car on the track. He passed Penske teammate Ryan Newman for 13th on lap 131 and got around Jeff Green for 10th five laps later.
Busch passed Greg Biffle for fifth on lap 162 as he continued his impressive run toward the front. He cleared Gordon for fourth on lap 165 and got around Jimmie Johnson for third on lap 184.
At the race's halfway point, on lap 200, Kevin Harvick led, with Denny Hamlin second, Busch third, Johnson fourth and Gordon fifth. Green-flag pit stops were the order beginning a lap later. Hamlin pitted on lap 203, moving Busch up to second. When Harvick pitted on lap 205, Busch was credited with leading lap 206 before he hit pit road for four tires and fuel.
The pit stops cycled around on lap 214 with Harvick leading, Kyle Busch running second, Gordon in third, Kurt Busch fourth, Hamlin fifth and Johnson sixth. The elder Busch brother got around Gordon for third on lap 213 and he was under his younger brother for the second spot on lap 245.
J.J. Yeley got into the wall on lap 251 to bring out the race's sixth caution flag. Harvick entered the pits as the leader and was pitting just behind the No. 2 car. Busch came around Harvick's No. 29 Chevy to his pit and the pit road battle began. Harvick completed his stop first and steered his car out onto pit lane around Busch's Dodge. Rookie David Ragan was attempting to get into his pit at the same time that Harvick was exiting. The two cars collided, with Harvick sustaining damage to his Chevy's right-front quarter-panel. The incident ended Harvick's chances for a win.
Busch led on the lap 261 restart and pulled away, as Johnson, Kyle Busch, Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. trailed. The No. 2 car led until David Gilliland spun on the backstretch on lap 278 to bring out the seventh caution flag. While Busch and all but eight of the 17 lead-lap drivers hit pit road, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Gordon, Hamlin and Tony Stewart stayed out and comprised the top-five on the lap 292 restart.
The call to pit road would be costly as the No. 2 car would never challenge again for the lead. Busch was ninth on the restart. When the ninth yellow of the race flew on lap 317, this one for debris, all of the lead-lap cars hit pit road for what would be their final scheduled stops. The No. 2 car fell to 11th for the lap 323 restart.
Several lead-lap cars pitted again on lap 337 under another debris caution, moving Busch up to seventh. He cleared Truex for sixth on lap 347, before Kenny Wallace's stalled car brought out the 11th caution flag on lap 349. The team discussed pitting for tires since the car had lost all grip and was being challenged from the rear by several cars with fresher tires.
However, the decision was made to stay out and try to hold on for the final 50 laps. Busch was chasing down fifth-place Dave Blaney on lap 371, when Blaney, Ward Burton and Ricky Rudd were three-wide off of turn 4. Sterling Marling tapped Burton from behind, causing "utter chaos" on the track, as Busch called it in barely missing the fracas.
None of the lead-lap cars pitted during the race's final yellow. Kyle Busch lined up as the leader for the lap 381 restart, with Johnson second, Gordon third, Hamlin fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. Johnson got a great restart and cleared the younger Busch for the lead on lap 382. Hamlin staged a charge and passed Gordon for third on lap 388.
At the checkered flag, it was Johnson coming home the winner, with Kyle Busch second, Hamlin third, Gordon fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. Newman, Harvick, Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
"It would have been fun to race them (Hendrick cars for the victory)," Busch said after the race. "We had track position at the time and we gave it up, so that was a bad call. It would have been up to them to get by us. It would have been interesting to try to hold them off. I felt our Dodge Avenger was just as strong today as their cars.
"Each race we've made progress and Darlington is going to be a tough race, but we just have to stay cool and see what we can do down there next weekend. I said all along if one team gets on it, they're going to be tough to catch. We were pretty good today, but we're pretty good at throwing them away as well.
"It was great, but we made a bad call to pit at the time we did. We might have been able to hold off the Hendrick Brigade, but we ended up fifth and it was a nice points' day for us, and we'll go on to the next one.
"It definitely feels good (to get two straight top-five finishes). We're out there working hard and I know our fans are cheering for us. It just felt like it was about time to get some good runs, I guess. Pit road has been rough this year, but once we get all that behind us we should be rolling smooth. We should have a feather in our caps today to know we ran with them (Hendrick cars). We definitely had a shot to beat them if we'd had the right pit strategy."
With his third-place finish last week at Talladega and another top-five at Richmond, Busch is now up to ninth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. With 1,198 points, he trails leader Gordon by 493 points. More importantly, however, is the fact that he is only five points behind eighth-place Harvick and he has built a 99-point cushion on the 13th-place Jamie McMurray.
The NEXTEL Cup circuit now heads to the historic Darlington Raceway for next Saturday's running of the Dodge Avenger 500. Live coverage of the battle will be provided by FOX and MRN Radio beginning at 7 p.m. EDT.