"I feel like we had a rough day with our Miller Lite Dodge Charger; maybe I was overdriving it," said Busch. "I got into Turn 1 a couple of times over my head, trying to get what seemed to be a sixth to a 10th-place car up into the top five. I almost clipped (Jeff) Burton once, just trying to drive in there and ended up getting (Joey) Logano. I apologize for that. I was just over driving. I wasn't quite in the zone. I wasn't quite feeling it today. We survived. We needed to have a good day today and not just survive.
"It's just trying to carry a car on your back that's only good for eighth-place," Busch said when asked further about his team's opening performance of the 10-race battle to determine the points titlist. "I should have settled for eighth. I wanted more. I wanted a good finish today and when you do that, when you stretch yourself thin, you get in trouble. That's what happened today. We'll pick up the pieces, head on to Dover and look for a better performance there on that fast one-mile track."
Busch started 12th Sunday afternoon and was up to eighth by Lap 16. He slid back to 21st after taking four tires under the first caution flag on Lap26, while the majority took only two. Adjustments made by his Steve Addington-led crew helped remedy a tight handling condition and Busch was able to climb back up to eighth on Lap 90. He passed teammate and pole-winner Brad Keselowski for seventh on Lap 132.
A debris caution on Lap 146 seemed to put a sense of urgency throughout the field and things began to get very aggressive. Busch was running 10th with 100 laps remaining. He barely missed getting into a fracas involving Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin on Lap 214 and climbed to fifth. After the restart, he was trying to pass Burton for fourth on Lap 223 when he got on the brakes too hard and spun to bring out the sixth caution flag of the race.
Busch fell to 22nd in the running order and was able to steer clear of an incident involving Keselowski and Matt Kenseth on Lap 234. Trying to make up the lost ground, he overdrove the Miller Lite Dodge diving into the corner and wound up making contact with Logano on Lap 241 to bring out the eighth caution flag of the race.
Busch restarted 22nd on Lap 246 and had climbed to 15th with 50 laps to go. Struggling with an ill-handling Miller Lite Dodge, he was able to hang on and bring the "Blue Deuce" home in the 13th finishing position.
Up front, it was Clint Bowyer taking the win in a fuel mileage battle down to the wire. Bowyer dominated today's race until the late series of cautions found him trailing Tony Stewart over the closing laps. With both drivers trying to nurse their fuel tanks to the finish, Bowyer found himself in position to claim his first win in 88 races when Stewart's fuel supply ran dry a lap from the checkered flag.
Hamlin was able to rally and finish second, with Jamie McMurray finishing third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth. Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr. completed Sunday's top-10 finishers. Edwards, A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Burton rounded out the top 15. Keselowski brought the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge home in the 18th spot.
Hamlin heads the point standings after the first Chase race. With 5,230 points, he leads second-place Bowyer (5,195) by 35 points. Harvick is third with 5,185; Kyle Busch fourth with 5,168; Gordon fifth with 5,155 and Kurt Busch sixth with 5,144. Illustrating just how important it is to finish races on the lead lap, Stewart fell all the way to 11th in the standings, losing 94 points in one lap by dropping from first to finish 24th here today.
"I didn't think what we were going to be that bad when we started the day with the Miller Lite Dodge," said crew chief Addington. "We have to work on our stuff. We have to work on our front ends to get them to turn better. We have to free the back of the car up. Kurt just got loose a couple of times and spun. That cost us. That's not Kurt Busch-style. When you spin out once and about spin out again and come back and get a top-13 out of it, that was amazing. You have to point to the driver for that. He drove his (rear end) off those last 50 laps."
The Sprint Cup tour now heads to Dover International Speedway in Delaware for next week's AAA 400, the second battle of the 10-race Chase. Next weekend's Dover action gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Sunday's 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday's 3:10 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying. Saturday's action on the "Monster Mile" includes practice sessions from 12:30 p.m. till 1:15 p.m. and from 1:50 p.m. till 2:50 p.m. Sunday's "AAA 400" (400 Laps/400 Miles) has a 1:00 p.m. EDT starting time. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.