"I thought that we had a good night with our Miller Lite Dodge, but we just didn't finish the race off and that's pretty much par for us the last five races," said Busch of his 18th top-10 finish in the 31 races held thus far in 2009. "We just can't finish races off like we need to in the Chase. It's frustrating, but the Miller Lite Dodge ran up front, we led a lap and got some bonus points. But that 48 team was awful tough tonight."
The "48 team" that Busch is referring to, of course, is current points leader Jimmie Johnson, who led five times for 92 laps Saturday and took a 2.303-second win over Matt Kenseth in posting his sixth victory of the season. The race was slowed by 10 cautions for a total of 42 laps, with five of those yellow flags being displayed during the final 44 circuits around this demanding 1.5-mile track.
"That's the general trend in the Chase," said Busch, who now trails leader Johnson by 177 points, but narrowed the gap to second-place Mark Martin to 87 points with five races remaining this season. "You get into a marathon-type pace early on and then you have a 100-yard dash at the end. It's almost like clockwork. But, the team that has the car to make that short run at the end is going to be successful. We worked our way inside the top five and just couldn't get any higher than that. My guys worked hard, we just didn't have enough for the 48 on that last run."
Busch started 15th Saturday night, but had worked his way up to be a fixture in the top-10 mix by lap 140. He was up to sixth when a caution for debris came out on lap 189. A quick 6.109-second two-tire pit stop moved Busch up to fourth for the lap 195 restart.
The "Blue Deuce," adorned once again with the special Operation Homefront color scheme, stayed in the top-five until a round of green-flag pit stops began on lap 242. During that cycling of stops, the Pat Tryson-led team was able to stay out an extra circuit before pitting. Busch was officially scored as the leader of laps 246-247, picking up five bonus points for doing so.
While Johnson, Kenseth and Kasey Kahne were battling it out for the lead up front, Busch was running in the sixth position when Max Papis spun in oil on the track to bring out the seventh caution flag of the race on lap 292. With several teams opting for only two tires, Busch took on four tires and fuel and fell to 10th for the lap 296 restart.
Three additional caution flags flew during the final 34 laps, with Busch falling back to 12th in the running order on lap 308 before rallying back to 10th on lap 319 and holding off Ryan Newman during the stretch run for that finishing spot.
"We were okay," said crew chief Tryson. "At times we were pretty good and then at times we were a little bit off. We just didn't have quite enough to run with the top four or five cars there at the end. We had a sixth-to-10th-place car and then the lapped cars decided to take two tires there at the end and we ended up 10th. It wasn't an awful night, but it wasn't what we were looking for."
Finishing behind winner Johnson and second-place Kenseth were Kasey Kahne in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth and rookie Joey Logano in fifth. Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-10 finishers.
After five races have been completed in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup (and 31 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 [6 wins], 5923, finished 1st
2) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 5833, -90, 17th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon [1 win], 5788, -135, 4th
4) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins], 5768, -155, 13th
5) #2-Kurt Busch [1 win], 5746, -177, 10th
6) #42-Juan Montoya 5728, -195, 35th
7) #16-Greg Biffle 5655, -268, 16th
8) #39-Ryan Newman 5635, -288, 11th
9) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 5592, -331, 3rd
10) #99-Carl Edwards 5582, -341, 39th
11) #11-Denny Hamlin [2 wins], 5551, -372, 42nd
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 win], 5438, -485, 34th
Busch's Penske Racing teammates David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 19th and 40th, respectively.. Hornish is 27th in points with 2,850, while Stremme is 30th with 2,753.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads to Martinsville Speedway, the shortest track on the circuit, for next weekend's 500-lap battle on that .526-mile paper clip-shaped track. The schedule this weekend begins on Friday with practice scheduled from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying is set for 3:10 p.m. and will determine all 43 starting positions for Sunday's race. Saturday's schedule calls for practice sessions from 10:00 a.m. till 10:45 a.m. and from 11:15 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 has a scheduled 1:30 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.