LOUDON, N.H. (September 25, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch struggled to a 22nd-place finish in today’s Sylvania 300 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and dropped to ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. But with eight races remaining on some of the 2004 series champion’s best tracks, Busch and his Steve Addington-led “Double-Deuce” team are confident they can bounce back.
“It was a frustrating day,” said Busch of his team’s worst finish since crashing out of the Michigan race on August 21. “Our Shell Pennzoil Dodge was certainly a handful. The front tires felt like they were on skids and the car was plowing through the corners. We were late going through inspection and that set the tone for our day. We were able to stay out and lead some laps under green and Steve Addington and the guys kept making changes and got our Dodge better by the end of the race. I just wish we could have started the race with the car that good."
Busch’s problems here today started even before the green flag dropped as the car was late getting to and through pre-race inspection and did not arrive to its spot on the starting grid until only four minutes before the engines were fired.
“NASCAR wasn’t 100 percent happy with what they saw on one of their gauges that kind of checks where the rear end is in the car, so we had to do a little work on it,” explained Travis Geisler, the Director of Competition for Penske Racing, just before the race started. “It’s a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ type of gauge and it didn’t go. We needed to make sure that it went. It wasn’t like there was any gray area that NASCAR was saying maybe we were or weren’t legal. We weren’t right yet. [We had] to kind of do it on their schedule to make it work the way they wanted. Everybody knew what needed to be done to be fixed. It wasn’t a mystery of what was wrong or a panic of whether or not we were going to be able to get the car fixed. It was just a matter of getting it fixed and getting it done in the timeline that NASCAR wanted to see, and they worked with us and got the car through. … I don’t think they were happy with us having to go around. We were pushing a little bit time-wise for their schedule, so we just had to deal with that and fortunately we got everything fixed and we’re going to make a good day out of it.”
Once the green flag fell this afternoon, Busch fought handling woes until the final 60 laps and it was too little and too late. During the course of the race, the team inserted spring rubbers, installed “packers” and performed numerous air pressure and track bar adjustments.
Busch was mired in 25th position with 100 laps to go. On the next-to-last fuel run, crew chief Addington kept his driver out as long as possible, hoping for a yellow flag to help even things out.
Busch never got the caution flag he needed, but was credited for leading Laps 242-245 before having to hit pit road for the final time. The air pressure and track bar adjustments had Busch’s Dodge running equally as strong as the leaders; even after the fresh tire advantage wore off. Busch was 26th when the pit stops had cycled around on Lap 247, but with no additional cautions to bunch the field up, he had to settle for the 22nd-place finish.
“That’s a shame,” said Addington. “The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was as strong as the leaders at the end. Track position is critical here and once we lost it, we were boxed in. There were only three caution flags the entire race. It was just a case of getting behind and not having a shot at catching up.
“The good thing is that we have so many really good tracks left during the final eight races,” said Addington. “And when you look to see that we’ve performed extremely well on the tracks we historically haven’t run very well on, we all know this thing is long from being over. We have two more months of racing and there’s plenty of time to get back up to the top.”
Clint Bowyer appeared to be headed to his second fall win here, but ran out of fuel with two laps remaining. Tony Stewart grabbed the lead on the white-flag lap and emerged with a 7.225-second victory over runner-up Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Greg Biffle finished third, with Jeff Gordon fourth and Brian Vickers fifth. Matt Kenseth rebounded from a mid-race spin to finish sixth, with David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya and Regan Smith rounding out today’s top-10 finishers.
Stewart’s second straight Chase victory sees him atop the point standings with eight races remaining to determine the 2011 champion. After posting career win No. 41 here this afternoon, Stewart has 2094 points and leads Kevin Harvick by seven. Keselwoski showed that he’s a serious player today and is now third in the standings with 2,083 (11 out of first). Edwards (2,080) is fourth and Gordon (2,071) fifth. Kyle Busch, Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all have 2,068 points and Kurt Busch is ninth with 2,066 (28 out of the lead). Jimmie Johnson (2,065), Ryan Newman (2,060) and Denny Hamlin (2,028) complete the 12 Chase drivers in the standings.
The Sprint Cup tour now heads back to the “Monster Mile” for the third race in the 2011 Chase. This weekend’s Dover International Speedway action gets under way on Friday with practices set from 11:00 a.m. till 12:25 p.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 2:40 p.m. till 4:15 p.m. (live on ESPN-2). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Saturday at 1:40 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Sunday’s “AAA 400” (400 laps, 400 miles) on the “Monster Mile” is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 2:00 p.m. EDT. Race No. 28 of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.