"Overall, it was a solid day for the Miller Lite Dodge," Busch said. "We started in a hole by qualifying 39th, but we battled and got track position back midway through the race. We could never find the right balance between tight and loose. Our fuel mileage allowed us to stay out in green flag stops that allowed us to lead a lap and get those valuable bonus points. When you look at the leader board and see 11 out of the top 12 guys Chase drivers, it makes it really tough to gain spots and earn points. We'll take our notes, learn from them and head to California."
After starting 39th Sunday Busch made slow and steady progress moving to the front. He was able to miss two early crashes and work his way up to 25th on Lap 10. During a series of green-flag pit stops, Busch hit pit road on Lap 54 for service. When that series of stops cycled around, Busch was all the way up to 16th in the running order.
Reed Sorenson smacked the wall on Lap 70 to bring out the third yellow flag of the race. With all the leaders hitting pit road again, crew chief Pat Tryson called for right-side tires only. That move launched the "Blue Deuce" all the way up to third for the Lap 73 restart.
Busch's Dodge developed a vibration and that, coupled with a very loose-handling race car, saw Busch fall all the way back to 14th when another round of green-flag stops was the order. Playing it safe because of the vibration, Tryson called Busch into the pits a few laps shy of the scheduled stop. Just as Busch was getting service on pit road on Lap 124, Brian Vickers spun wildly off of Turn 4 to bring out the fourth caution period of the race. During the stop, it was discovered that there was a problem with the right-rear wheel.
Fortunately, Busch was able to maintain his lead-lap status after all the remaining lead lappers hit pit road under the yellow, but he fell all the way back to the 24th spot for the Lap 130 restart. He had made it back up to 16th when Elliott Sadler's contact with the wall brought out the fifth yellow flag on Lap 148.
During the ensuing pit stop, extra attention - and time - had to be given to address the right-rear wheel application. That resulted in a 15.924-second pit stop and sent Busch back to 19th for the Lap 151 restart.
The negative situation appeared to have a potential silver cloud as the "2 car" looked to be able to go the distance with only one additional trip to pit road...if the track remained under green-flag conditions. Busch was able to stretch his mileage to lead Lap 207 and pick up the five bonus points before hitting pit road again on Lap 208.
When this round of green-flag stops cycled around, Busch was running 10th on Lap 214. The hopes were that the race would remain caution-free and many of the cars in front would have to hit pit road one more time.
All of those hopes went up in smoke when the sixth caution flag of the day flew on Lap 237 for liquid put down on the track from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s blown engine. The four-tire stop on the Lap 238 pit stop saw Busch line up ninth for the Lap 241 restart.
With 26 laps remaining in the race, Tony Stewart led, with Kasey Kahne second and Jimmie Johnson third. Those top-three drivers got only right-side tires during their pit stops. Greg Biffle lined up fourth, with Denny Hamlin fifth, Jeff Gordon sixth, Mark Martin seventh, Juan Pablo Montoya eighth, Busch ninth and Brad Keselowski 10th.
Once the double-file restart spread out, Stewart had jumped out to a huge lead. Busch got caught up in a huge pack of cars. When he attempted a move to the outside line to gain spots, his car snapped loose and the right-rear quarter panel smacked the outside wall. With his last set of tires getting "no grip at all," Busch was forced to hang on to get all he could during the final laps. He was able to bring the Miller Lite Dodge home in the 11th position.
Up front, it was Stewart taking the victory by 0.894 seconds over Gordon, with Biffle third, Montoya fourth, Hamlin fifth, Kahne sixth, Martin seventh, David Reutimann eighth, Johnson ninth and Edwards 10th. Busch finished 11th and the other "Chasers"...Ryan Newman finished 22nd and Vickers finished 37th.
After three races of the 10-race "Chase" have been put into the record books, Busch is now fifth in the standings, trailing leader Martin by 91 points. Here is the unofficial top-12 (Chase) point standings after 29 of 36 races. Shown are position, car number, driver, wins, points, points behind leader and today's race finish:
1) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 5551, finished 7th
2) #48-Jimmie Johnson [4 wins], 5533, -18, 9th
3) #42-Juan Montoya 5500, -51, 4th
4) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins] 5484, -67, WON
5) #2-Kurt Busch [1 win], 5460, -91, 11th
6) #11-Denny Hamlin [2 wins], 5452, -99, 5th
7) #24-Jeff Gordon 5448, -103, 2nd
8) #16-Greg Biffle 5437, -114, 3rd
9) #39-Ryan Newman 5387, -164, 22nd
10) #99-Carl Edwards 5386, -165, 10th
11) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 5361, -190, 6th
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 wins], 5301, -250, 37th
As for Busch's Penske Racing teammates, Sam Hornish Jr. finished 18th here today and is currently 27th in the standings with 2,680 points. David Stremme finished 25th and is 29th in the standings with 2,532 points.
"Our Miller Lite Dodge was pretty good today," Tryson said as the team went through post-race teardown. "We had a little problem with a loose wheel that set up back. We pitted the one time and then the caution came out and went a lap down. We had to come from the back twice, so to finish11th was great. We were just too loose there at the end to really make up any ground."
"We had a tough start to the day, but we soldiered through the day, moved up through the pack, had some misfortunes at times but were able to rally back and get an 11th-place finish," added Mike Nelson, the Vice-President of Operations for Penske Racing. "We didn't have the day that we wanted to have, but we had a day that we needed to and kept ourselves in contention for the Chase."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads back to the 2.0-mile Auto Club Speedway for next weekend's Pepsi 500. This week's schedule begins on Friday with practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. PDT. Friday's 3:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will set Sunday's 43-car starting field. Saturday's schedule offers practice sessions from 10:30 a.m. till 11:15 a.m. and from 11:45 a.m. till 12:45 p.m. Sunday's Pepsi 500 (250 Laps, 500 miles) has a scheduled 12:15 p.m. PDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.