WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (Aug. 12, 2007) -- With Kurt Busch's hard-earned 11th-place finish in Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen NEXTEL Cup race at Watkins Glen International, the Miller Lite Dodge driver increased his buffer for "Chase eligibility"...
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (Aug. 12, 2007) -- With Kurt Busch's hard-earned 11th-place finish in Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen NEXTEL Cup race at Watkins Glen International, the Miller Lite Dodge driver increased his buffer for "Chase eligibility" from seven points entering the event to 96 points leaving the picturesque 2.45-mile Finger Lakes Region road course.
Busch started Sunday's race in 13th and became a fixture among the top 10 after only 10 laps. The fuel mileage game this race has become came into play only a few laps later. Crews have adopted the strategy used by Ryan Newman in 2003 when he won eight races of running the event backwards, calculating the earliest they can hit pit road to complete the 90-lap distance with only one additional pit stop.
When the race's second of eight caution flags flew on lap 23 for debris, all of the lead-lap cars pitted. While several cars were already prepared to gamble on caution flag laps to conserve fuel and allow them to make the distance with only one more stop, crew chief Pat Tryson was explaining on the team radio that such was not the case with Busch's No. 2 Dodge.
Busch pitted a second time on lap 53, taking on four tires and fuel and getting an air-pressure adjustment to his car's rear ties. Tryson was quick to again radio his driver that they would still have to come in for another stop for at least a splash of fuel before the race was completed.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who entered the race 13th in points only seven behind Busch, was running just behind the No. 2 Dodge when his car's engine let go on lap 64 to bring out the fifth yellow flag. Busch was second at the time behind then leader Jeff Gordon.
However, Busch was forced to relinquish that spot on lap 65 when Tryson called him down pit road for the final scheduled stop. Unfortunately, Busch was tagged with a speeding penalty on his exit and was sent to the rear of the longest line for the lap 67 restart.
Busch lined up 37th for the return to green-flag racing. He had made it back to 23rd when the race was red-flagged on lap 76 for a five-car crash that left debris and fluids in turn 1. After the race was stopped for 26 minutes 4 seconds, it resumed on lap 78. However, it went back under yellow on lap 80 when P.J. Jones spun into the gravel on the inner loop.
Busch was 18th on the lap 83 restart and was able to climb an additional seven spots during the remaining laps to post the 11th-place finish.
"I realize that it was a good day for us in the points and all, but it really gets frustrating when you have a car as strong as we did here today and only get an 11th-place finish out of it," said Busch, who maintains the 12th and final Chase-eligible position in the points with four races remaining to determine the 12 drivers who will compete for the 2007 title. "We were running second and had a car strong enough to win here today, but the fuel mileage situation bit us again and we had to pit. Then, to top it off, we got a speeding penalty leaving the pits.
"When I looked up there before we went back to racing after they pulled the red flag and saw the [No.] 07 car [Clint Bowyer] and the [No.] 1 car [Martin Truex Jr.] in front of me, I knew I had to do all I could to try to get around those guys. I raced my guts out 'til the very end and we still only got an 11th out of it. We have to get this fuel mileage deal figured out; we absolutely have to. With the way things went here today, we could have very well won the race. I know I'll calm down and see the big picture view of things later on, but it sure is frustrating to not finish any better."
"I'll tell you what, I'd lots rather have to bridle the stallion than have to light the fire to get him motivated," Tryson said with a chuckle after emerging from a post-race debriefing with his driver in the front of the team hauler. "You just have to love Kurt Busch after watching him race here today. We knew that we have work to do as far as getting the fuel mileage we need to be getting. That is a No. 1 priority for our team and all the guys over on the motor side are already working on it.
"When the [No.] 8 car had his problems, we let Kurt know that, but it didn't really seem to hit home that much. He was so focused on gaining on the guys in front of us in the point standings that I don't even think that he was considering that he was building a bigger buffer on the guys behind us when he came flying back up through the field like he did.
"The way he was running at the end, if we'd had a couple of more laps, he would have finished five or six more spots up the ladder. If Kurt didn't prove that he is one of the best road racers out there in today's race, you certainly were not watching what I saw.
"Honestly, when we looked at the schedule before this race, this was the biggest question mark for us of all the races remaining until the Chase. I mean, yes, anything can happen at Bristol, but Kurt is so good at that track that we have to come in there looking to execute like he always does.
"I'm really proud of Kurt and our entire Miller Lite Dodge team for hanging tough today and coming out of here with a big day as far as the big picture goes. Now it's on to Michigan where we'll have a brand-new car for Kurt and we're hoping it may just be as strong as the car we had for him at Pocono last week."
With 2,529 points, 12th-place Busch holds a 96-point advantage over 13th-place Newman and a 100-point lead over 14th-place Earnhardt Jr. He now trails the 11th-place Truex by 58 points.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup tour now heads to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's 3-M Performance 400. The 400-mile, 200-lap battle is slated for 2 p.m. EDT and will feature live coverage by ESPN and MRN Radio.