"It was a tough day for our Miller Lite Dodge," Busch said back at the team transporter after logging the grueling 501 laps on this demanding paper clip-shaped .625-mile short track. "We started at the back (of the field) and made it all the way up inside the top 10 for quite a few laps. Because of our qualifying position, we didn't get the best pit stall and trying to pit between the 26 car (Jamie McMurray) and the 31 car (Jeff Burton) was a challenge all day long.
"On a pit stop with about 200 laps to go, I had to get too close to the wall to squeeze into our pit box and that really did us in," said Busch. "We lost about 15 spots and got caught up way back in the pack. We got a lap down for that last long last green flag run and worked our way into the Lucky Dog, but we couldn't get the caution we needed until about 15 laps to go. It was too little too late to make up the spots we needed and finished 17th."
Busch started back in the 37th position in Sunday's race and made steady progress up through the field. He had cracked the top 30 on lap 32 and cleared Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. for 20th on lap 74. On lap 104, he passed Jeff Burton for 15th and continued on his roll toward the front.
Busch was 13th on the lap 136 restart after the fourth caution period of the race and moved into the top 10 on the lap 163 restart after the fifth yellow flag had been flown. He climbed as high in the running order as fourth as his Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Dodge Team went with pitting strategy that was in tune with eventual winner Denny Hamlin, brother Kyle and Kevin Harvick.
Busch remained a potential top-10 candidate until havoc struck during a lap 302 pit stop under the 11th caution period of the race. Busch pitted and was forced to wedge his Dodge in between the cars of McMurray and Burton and got too close to the inside pit wall. When the right-side tires were put on the car, he had to back up and pull forward to complete the stop. The 22.027-second stop sent Busch from 13th entering pit road all the way back to 28th for the lap 306 restart.
The "Blue Deuce" had climbed back up to 20th by lap 380, but a hard-charging Hamlin was leading and passed to put Busch a lap down on lap 390. Busch was still a lap down when the first green-flag stops of the race cycled around on lap 441.
John Andretti spun on Lap 445 to bring out the 12th caution period of the race. Busch lined up 23rd on the lap 448 restart and worked his way up into the "Lucky Dog" eligibility position should a caution flag be displayed. Unfortunately for Busch and crew, that did not come until lap 484 when the 13th yellow flag of the race was flown, this one for debris on the frontstretch.
Busch was able to get back on the lead lap, but after hitting pit road for four fresh tires on Lap 486 he had to start from the rear of the field for the lap 488 restart. Scott Speed's crash on lap 494 closed the field up again. Busch, Tryson and crew pitted one final time for fresh rubber and lined up 19th for the green-white-checkered finish.
After the final few laps of beating and banging, Busch brought his car home in the 17th spot. The race ended with Andretti's car spun out on the frontstretch with only the outside lane open to clear the finish line.
At the finish line, it was Hamlin taking a four car-length win over Jimmie Johnson, with Juan Pablo Montoya third, Kyle Busch fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth. McMurray, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Harvick round out today's top-10 finishers. Positions 11-20, in order, went to Brian Vickers, rookie Joey Logano, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Burton, David Reutimann, Kurt Busch, Casey Mears, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards.
Penske Racing teammate David Stremme finished 33rd Sunday, while teammate Hornish finished 36th.
After six races have been completed in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup (and 32 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], 6098, finished 2nd
2) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 5980, -118, 8th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon [1 win], 5948, -150, 5th
4) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins], 5902, -196, 9th
5) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya 5898, -200, 3rd
6) #2-Kurt Busch [1 win], 5858, -240, 17th
7) #39-Ryan Newman 5786, -312, 7th
8) #16-Greg Biffle 5748, -350, 25th
9) #11-Denny Hamlin [3 wins], 5746, -352, 1st/WON
10) #99-Carl Edwards 5685, -413, 20th
11) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 5659, -439, 32nd
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 win], 5568, -530, 11th
The Sprint Cup tour now heads from the smallest track here at Martinsville to the longest track, Talladega Superspeedway, the mammoth 2.66-mile Alabama track, for next weekend's AMP Energy Drink 500.