AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 13, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch looked to have a great shot at winning today’s Kobalt Tools 500 here at Phoenix International Raceway, but after running out of fuel and encountering a pit road penalty with just over 30 laps remaining, he was relegated to a 22nd-place finish.
A gutsy pit call under the eighth caution period of the day saw crew chief Steve Addington go with left-side tires only. The move shot Busch from fourth up into the lead on Lap 222 and for the Lap 224 restart.
Busch set sail and was at the point until Addington called him down pit road for what would be the final pit stop on Lap 278. That was when the 2004 NASCAR champ’s goal of claiming his 25th series victory and second career win here at Phoenix got derailed.
"What an unbelievable turn of events,” the disappointed Busch said after the race. “We worked our butts off all race trying to get track position and just couldn't cash our ticket in late in the race. We knew that track position and two-tire strategy were going to be keys and it almost paid off for us. Steve (Addington, crew chief) made the great call for two left sides under caution around Lap 220. That got us out front, but we may not have packed the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge full of fuel. We're not exactly sure, but it certainly appears that way. Either that or we missed it on the fuel mileage calculation.
"I thought for sure that once we got out in clean air after we took the lead that we had a great shot at the win,” Busch said. “I knew that we had one more pit stop to make and with track position, I loved our chance to win the race. Steve radioed to pit just as I was coming down the backstretch and within a second or two, I ran out of gas. Just incredible. I made it to the pit box and when we tried to restart the engine, the car wouldn't fire right away. It cost us a lot of time. Worst part is that I had no tachometer, got caught speeding on pit road and had to do a wave through. We went from first to 26th, all in just making a green-flag pit stop. It was just an incredible turn of events. I think we had the car to be in Victory Lane."
Busch started today’s race from the 17th position, but quickly established himself as a solid top-10 contender. Working with air pressure and track bar adjustments early in the race, the “Double Deuce” was posting top-five lap times most of the race and it was the fastest car on the track for many laps. Solid pit work by the No. 22 “over-the-wall-gang” helped keep Busch in the mix until the unfortunate scenario unfolded at the end of the race.
“That was a shame right there,” Addington offered after the race. “I feel bad for Kurt and everyone on this Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team. We had a lot of our friends from Shell-Pennzoil and the Jiffy Lube folks all here today and their car should be over there in Victory Lane now. We led more laps than anybody but the 14 (Tony Stewart) and had a winning car. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of just what happened there with the fuel issue.”
At the checkers, it was Kasey Kahne snapping an 81-race winless streak to post the victory in his No. 4 Red Bull Racing entry. Kahne came across the line 0.802 seconds ahead of runner-up Carl Edwards. Stewart finished third, with Jeff Burton fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. A. J. Allmendinger was sixth, with David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer rounding out the top-10 finishers. Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski finished 18th in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
With only next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway remaining on the schedule, the stage is set for a two-man battle between Edwards and Stewart for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. With Edwards finishing in front of Stewart here today, but Stewart leading the most laps, Edwards maintains his three-point advantage over Stewart heading into Homestead. They are the only two drivers in the hunt for the points title.
After 35 of the 36 races, it’s Edwards with 2,359 points to Stewart’s 2,356. Kevin Harvick is third (with 2,308 points), with Keselowski (2,294) fourth and Jimmie Johnson (2,291) fifth. Matt Kenseth (2,289), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,257), Kurt Busch (2,252), Newman (2,252), Denny Hamlin (2,249), Jeff Gordon (2,247) and Kyle Busch (2,224) round out the top-12 in points.
Friday’s practice from 3:00 p.m. till 4:20 p.m. kicks off next weekend’s Ford 400 finale action. The final practice is scheduled for Friday from 6:05 p.m. till 7:25 p.m. The entire 43-car starting field will be established in Saturday’s qualifying session that begins at 2:40 p.m. Sunday’s Ford 400 (400 miles, 267 laps) has a scheduled 3:00 p.m. EST starting time on the 1.5-mile speed plant located at the north end of the Florida Keys. ESPN-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.