FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 4, 2007) -- Kurt Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Dodge team bounced back from going a lap down at one point to post an eighth-place finish in Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch's 13th top-10...
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 4, 2007) -- Kurt Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Dodge team bounced back from going a lap down at one point to post an eighth-place finish in Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch's 13th top-10 finish this season helped him maintain ninth in the NEXTEL Cup point standings with only two races remaining.
"We were just way too loose there in the final run and it was all I could do to hang on," Busch said after fighting a loose handling condition in his car for the majority of Sunday's race. "After restarting sixth after the last caution, we were hoping to get us another solid top-five finish, but the changes we made got the car even looser. Rather than crash ourselves out, we had to give up spots to the 31 [Jeff Burton] and the 24 [Jeff Gordon] as the laps ran down.
"It was disappointing because we had a car that deserved better than an eighth all day long. We got behind because we had to pit under the green for a bad vibration on the right-front, but we bounced back from that. I know it could have been worse, but it was a shame that we didn't get at least a top-five finish here today."
Busch started sixth and was up to fourth when the event's first of 12 caution flags flew on lap 15 when Paul Menard spun in turn 4. The ensuing pit stops saw the first evidence that strategy to gain track position would be of major importance during the race.
With four teams opting for two tires and beating Busch's four-tire effort off pit road, the No. 2 Dodge was relegated to seventh on the lap 19 restart. Busch proved his car's strength again as he had climbed all the way to second by lap 28.
However, when the fourth yellow flag flew on lap 36 for debris, Busch hit pit road for right-side tires and fuel. Some 17 drivers chose not to pit and thus began the multi-strategy pit sequencing. Busch was back in 20th for the lap 40 restart.
Again he proved to have a car capable of winning as he climbed back to seventh on lap 65 and was running the fastest lap times of all competitors. Busch continued to gain spots as the drivers who did not pit under the previous yellow were forced to make stops under the green.
When Kyle Busch pitted on lap 84, older brother Kurt found himself leading the pack until he too had to pit for scheduled serviced nine laps later. When the pit stops cycled around on lap 93, Kyle Busch led, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second, Kevin Harvick third, Jeff Gordon fourth, Kasey Kahne fifth, Martin Truex Jr. sixth and Kurt Busch seventh.
Continuously fighting the loose handling condition and attempting to stay ahead of the curve as the track conditions changed with the setting sun, the team used tire pressure and wedge adjustments.
After going with right-side tires only on a lap 133 pit stop under the sixth caution period, Busch was forced to hit pit road again the next lap around after running over debris and experiencing a flat left-rear tire. That relegated him to 21st for the Lap 141 restart.
Busch had made his way back up to 17th some 10 laps later, when the seventh caution flag flew. The lead-lap cars all stayed out and Busch started picking off cars one by one when the green flag flew again. By the halfway mark at lap 167, Busch had climbed to 11th. He was seventh at lap 182 and cracked the top five at lap 188.
Busch pitted on lap 191 for four tires and air pressure adjustments. However, only four laps later, he radioed in that he was experiencing a serious right-front vibration. He held on for the next 14 laps, hoping for a yellow flag to address the problem. He never got it and was forced to pit under the green on lap 205. The right-front wheel was indeed loose and it was a smart move to pit, even though it did drop Busch down a lap to the leader and he fell to 23rd.
Tryson knew his team was behind the eight ball and called for major changes when A.J. Allmendinger crashed on the backstretch on lap 213 to cause the eighth caution. During the ensuing lap 215 pit stop, the crew removed spring rubbers from the rear springs and focused on getting the "Lucky Dog" free pass back onto the lead lap.
A multi-car crash on lap 219 involving Casey Mears, David Gilliland and others brought out the ninth caution flag and allowed Scott Riggs to regain his lost lap. The front end of the Miller Lite Dodge sustained a puncture wound to the center of the front hood area during the incident. After the following restart, Busch cleared J.J. Yeley and Bobby Labonte to become "Lucky Dog-eligible" and when Greg Biffle scraped the wall on lap 233, Busch was back on the lead lap.
The team was able to repair the damaged hood during the yellow and get its driver ready for a charge back toward the front. Busch was 16th on the Lap 238 restart and displayed the same strength he did earlier in the race. He was back up to 10th at lap 248, as Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had a spirited battle up front for the lead.
Hamlin smacked the wall on lap 273 to bring out the 11th caution flag and set up what appeared to possibly amount to a battle of fuel mileage to the end. Great pit work during this stop under the yellow had Busch up to fourth for the lap 278 restart. Jimmie Johnson led, with Kyle Busch second, Kenseth third and Busch fourth.
Busch had the fastest car on the track for the next 22 laps and was edging closer toward the front when Biffle blew an engine to bring out a record-tying 12th caution flag. That ended any chance of fuel economy being a deciding factor in the race.
Under the ensuing pit stop, Busch went with air pressure changes to the left rear and right front, along with a minor wedge adjustment to the left rear. Ryan Newman, Kenseth and Jamie McMurray all went with two tires and had the top three spots for the restart with 29 laps to go. Johnson lined up fourth, with Truex fifth, Kurt Busch sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, Kevin Harvick eighth, Jeff Burton ninth and Jeff Gordon 10th.
"We're even looser now," Busch radioed on lap 310, after his brother had passed him.
"We're just way too loose," he said, as both Burton and Gordon cleared him, dropping him to eighth on lap 317.
Up front, Kenseth had passed Newman for the lead on lap 306 and had built a 1.5-second advantage. Johnson, with the fresher four tires, mounted a charge to reach Kenseth's rear bumper with seven laps remaining. The two champion drivers battled side by side for several laps before Johnson took the lead for good with less than two laps remaining.
At the finish, it was Johnson holding off Kenseth for the win, his ninth of the season and the 17th in 34 races for Hendrick Motorsports. Truex was third, with Kyle Busch fourth and Newman fifth. Jeff Burton finished sixth, with Gordon seventh, Kurt Busch eighth, McMurray ninth and Harvick 10th.
"We just didn't need that last caution to come out," crew chief Tryson said in the garage after the race had concluded. "We had the fastest car on the track and Kurt was getting stronger and stronger during that run. We double-checked the fuel and it looked like we would run out on the last lap, but with Kurt so loose, there's no doubt we'd been able to go the distance. We just got bit by the yellow coming out when we didn't need it.
"But with the way things panned out, with us going down a lap and coming back like we did, it certainly wasn't a terrible day for us. We should have finished better than eighth because we definitely had better than an eighth-place car. We have two races remaining and we're looking forward to getting the Miller Lite Dodge back in victory lane another time or two before this season ends."
Johnson's win launched him ahead of Hendrick teammate Gordon for the NEXTEL Cup points lead. Johnson leads with 6,382 points to Gordon's 6,352. Clint Bowyer is third, but he now trails Johnson by 181 points. Kyle Busch is fourth [6,043], Carl Edwards fifth [6,025], Tony Stewart sixth [6,009], Burton seventh [5,951], Harvick eighth [5,943], Kurt Busch ninth [5,929] and Kenseth 10th [5,928].