"It was just a tough day all around - loose, tight, loose, tight," said Busch, who never cracked the top 20 during a long and hot day here in Kansas. "We were so loose there with 30 (laps) to go that I slapped the wall twice in three laps. Our handling issue didn't give us a chance to evaluate the performance of the new engine. We will get a better opportunity at tracks like Phoenix and Martinsville."
Busch was referring to the new Dodge R6P8 power plant that his Penske Racing Team had under the hood, marking the first race ever for the lighter and more-powerful "next-generation" engine that is expected to be the standard for Dodge teams during the 2009 season.
"From what we've seen so far with this engine, it has tremendous torque and that'll be great for Kurt and our team once we get everything in order," said crew chief Pat Tryson. "That's where Kurt is so good most everywhere is getting off the corners. When we get it dialed in to where we're getting all the traction we can exiting the turns and getting all the power out of this engine to the ground, I think it'll mean a significant gain for us."
After starting 31st here today, a "tighter than tight" handling condition saw Busch fall to the rear of the pack. On Lap 39, then-leader Matt Kenseth cruised by on the outside to put the No. 2 Dodge down a lap.
The crew continuously made changes during pit stops and the car regularly went from being too tight to too loose. Busch and crew caught a break when Tony Stewart spun on Lap 129 to bring out the fifth caution of the race. The Miller Lite Dodge had started up front as the lead car running a lap down on the Lap 125 restart and when the yellow flag flew, Busch got the "Lucky Dog" free pass and returned to the lead lap.
Busch remained in the lead lap until Lap 169, when leader Jimmie Johnson got by to put the him down a lap once again. Busch ran the strongest he did all race long with 70 laps remaining in the race, consistently running laps within a tenth of a second of the leaders' lap times, but it was too little too late.
Changes made during the team's final pit stop with 40 laps remaining loosened up the chassis to the extent that Busch was fortunate to hang on till the end of the race.
The battle up front for the win here today was a very spirited one, with Johnson and Carl Edwards exchanging the lead several times. Edwards had a huge lead on Johnson on Lap 218, when the sixth caution flag of the race fell. But Johnson's crew got him off pit road first during the ensuing pit stops and he never surrendered the lead again in the closing laps.
Johnson emerged with a 0.280-second victory over Edwards. Greg Biffle finished third, with Jeff Gordon fourth and Kenseth fifth. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, David Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler rounded out today's top-10 finishers.
Ryan Newman was the highest-finishing Penske Racing driver here today, finishing 16th and one of the 17 competitors to complete all 267 laps. Rookie campaigner Sam Hornish Jr. finished 33rd and was two laps down at the conclusion of today's race.
Johnson leads Edwards by 10 points in the Sprint Cup point standings after 29 races. Biffle is third and 30 points behind the leader. Several Chase drivers had dismal days here this afternoon and fell well out of the running for this year's championship. Denny Hamlin is now 10th and 243 points behind Johnson, Tony Stewart 11th and 255 points behind and Kyle Busch 12th and 311 points out of the lead.
Kurt Busch now has 2,906 points and holds down the 18th position. He is 463 points behind 13th-place Ragan and 241 behind 15th-place Newman. He currently has a 39-point advantage on 19th-place Jamie McMurray.
The Spring Cup Series now heads back to Talladega Superspeedway for the final restrictor-plate race of the 2008 tour. This weekend's schedule at the gigantic Alabama facility begins on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 1:00 p.m. till 2:15 p.m. and from 2:45 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. Saturday's 11:15 a.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday's 43-car starting field, will all cars impounded immediately after the session. Sunday's AMP Energy 500 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 1:00 p.m. CDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.