"It was a decent run for us," Busch said of his 17th top-10 finish of the season. "We just kept plugging away trying to get to that front pack. When we did find them, those boys were fast. There wasn't much we could do. There's two sets of corners and two sets of straightaways and we did what we could, they just had us in all four sections of the race track. For us to limp home eighth after that damage is beyond expectations.
"I ruined a few Chase guys days, Kasey Kahne and (Greg) Biffle, I apologize to them," added Busch, after turning in his 132nd career top-10 finish in 332 races. "I got off of Turn 4 and the car just jumped sideways on m e and then it just flung straight off the wall and back in the groove where everybody was. Everybody has the gloves off with 25 laps to go. That's where our team has been struggling a bit, giving away positions at the end of the race. Our Miller Lite Dodge came home eighth, did the best we could. We're just not hanging with the guys that are finishing 1-2 every week."
After post-qualifying inspection nullified David Reutimann's second-place starting spot and sent him to the rear for Sunday's race, Busch advanced to start 24th on the grid. His Miller Lite Dodge was strong enough to crack the top-20 running order after only two laps. He was up to 15th on lap 8 and his advancement stalled when he climbed to 14th on lap 22.
Green-flag pit stops began on lap 35. The Pat Tryson-led "Blue Deuce" team was able once again to push their fuel mileage to the limit, allowing Busch to lead Lap 40 before hitting pit road for service the next circuit around. By doing so, Busch has now earned bonus points for leading laps in all four Chase races to date.
While the Hendrick Motorsports cars of Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon spent most of the race up front, with Juan Pablo Montoya also in the mix for much of the day, Busch ran from 12th to 15th for the first 75 laps. He climbed into the top-10 on the lap 86 restart after the second caution period of the race and remained a fixture there for the remainder of the 250-lap battle.
Busch continued his forward progress and engaged in a spirited battle with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for almost 30 laps in quest of the sixth position. Busch's Dodge was stronger in the turns, while Earnhardt's Chevrolet proved to have more power down the straightaways.
The Miller Lite Dodge crew had one of their most consistent days of the season on pit road here today and lost spots only once in the seven pit stops during the race. That helped Busch to line up sixth on the lap 194 restart after the fifth caution period of the race. He climbed as far as fourth before settling in to run in the fifth spot for more than 30 laps.
Another round of green-flag pit stops began on lap 226. Busch hit pit road on Lap 228 for four tires and no adjustments. The 13.141-second pit stop had him in fifth when the stops finally cycled around on lap 234.
Another caution flag for debris on lap 235 bunched all the cars back together again with 15 laps remaining and things began to get wild from there on out. Busch was fifth on the lap 237 restart. He started on the inside row, but without getting the grip he needed with his tires, he was shuffled to the outside. He was trying to hold his own exiting turn 4 on lap 238 when his Dodge slid up into the outside wall and veered back left into Kasey Kahne's Dodge. Kahne's car made contact with Greg Biffle's Ford and they both spun into the infield grass, stacking the field up around them and behind them. The incident brought out the seventh caution of the race.
Busch didn't escape unscathed as he suffered sheet metal damage on both sides of the car. The damage done on the right side caused a severe tire rub and the team contemplated hitting pit road to address the situation. With spotter Chris Osborne confirming that it was only a slight rub to the sidewall of the tire, the team chose not to pit and soldier on.
After the lap 243 restart, a multi-car crash down the frontstretch on lap 244 brought out the eighth caution of the race and moments later a red-flag condition. It took some 22 minutes for officials to clean up the debris and fluids.
The restart on lap 247 set up a three-lap das to the finish. The running order on the restart showed Johnson the leader, Gordon second, Martin third, Montoya fourth, David Ragan fifth, Tony Stewart sixth, Casey Mears seventh, Busch eighth, Ryan Newman ninth and Carl Edwards 10th.
The field was able to run the remaining laps caution-free and it was Johnson taking the win at the line by 1.603 seconds over teammate Gordon. Montoya finished third, with Martin fourth and Stewart fifth. Edwards finished sixth, with Ragan seventh, Busch eighth, Clint Bowyer ninth and Kevin Harvick 10th.
"It was kind of a strange day there at the end of the race," said crew chief Tryson. "It's just the way that these races seem to go. (NASCAR) seems to throw cautions during the race, it is what it is. We had a good Miller Lite Dodge. We thought that we were going to get a top-five and just got jumbled up in that one restart that gave us a fender rub. Our car was pretty good and we battled our way up to the leaders with 25 to go. That's all that you can ask when you start where we did. It's just racing. So all in all, it's not bad to bring home an eighth-place finish."
After four races have been completed in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup (and 30 races overall), here is the way the top-12 point standings look. Shown is position, car number, driver, '09 wins, points, deficit to 1st and finishing position in today's race:
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson [5 wins], 5728, finished 1st
2) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 5716, -12, 4th
3) #42-Juan Montoya 5670, -58, 3rd
4) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins], 5644 -84, 5th
5) #24-Jeff Gordon [1 win], 5623 -105, 2nd
6) #2-Kurt Busch [1 win], 5607, -121, 8th
7) #16-Greg Biffle 5540, -188, 20th
8) #99-Carl Edwards 5536, -192, 6th
9) #11-Denny Hamlin [2 wins], 5509, -219, 37th
10) #39-Ryan Newman 5505, -223, 15th
11) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 5422, -306, 34th
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 win], 5377, -351,2 9th
Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and David Stremme finished 12th and 16th respectively here today. Hornish holds down the 26th position in the point standings with 2,807 points, while Stremme is shown in 30th with 2,647 points.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads back to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., for next weekend's running of the NASCAR Banking 500. The schedule at Lowe's Motor Speedway begins on Thursday with practice scheduled from 3:00 p.m. till 4:30 p.m. Qualifying is set for 7:10 p.m. and will determine all 43 starting positions for Saturday's race. Friday's schedule calls for practice sessions from 5:00 p.m