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Busch finishes Sixth in Phoenix, Still Fourth in Standings

November 16, 2009

Photo courtesy of Autostock



AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 15, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch led early in Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 here at Phoenix International Raceway and challenged eventual winner Jimmie Johnson for the first half of the race, but had to settle for a sixth-place finish at the end of the day. Busch's 20th top-10 finish of the season helped solidify his fourth spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points battle with only next weekend's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway remaining on the 2009 schedule.

"It was a good start," Busch said of the first half of Sunday's race, when he led on three occasions for 69 laps and was one of only four drivers who led laps Sunday. "We had a great car in the beginning, a good feel, but lost the handle. (It was) A tough day for the Miller Lite Dodge. We wanted to be right up there in the mix going for the win. Sixth place, we'll take it. Last week was a win. We're gaining points and we're still doing a good job. (Jeff) Gordon is within distance going into Homestead for third place overall."

Busch came into the race trailing third-place Jeff Gordon by 59 points. His finish Sunday cut the deficit to 42 points heading into the season finale. Busch entered the race with a seven-point advantage over fifth-place Tony Stewart. He will enter the final race of the season with a 74-point buffer over fifth.

"It was a good day, just not quite good enough," added crew chief Pat Tryson. "We started out good, but as the track rubbered up, we weren't quite as good as we needed to be. All in all, it was a good day. We would have liked it to have been a little better."

After Busch scored his sixth top-10 finish of the nine Chase races completed so far, he was asked about next week's season finale in South Florida, which will also be the final race for the driver/crew chief combination of Busch and Tryson.

"I think we do (have another win in us)," Busch said with a wide grin. "We're bringing back ‘Patriot,' the car we won with at Texas. It's a great car. Our team has an upbeat feel. We've had a long year. We've had a successful year. There's no better way than put together a 100 percent effort this next week and go out with a bang and hopefully a win."

Busch started Sunday's race on the outside pole, but quickly got around pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. to lead the first lap. He held the point until Johnson closed in and finally made the pass on lap 57.

Busch ran second to Johnson until the first round of green-flag pit stops were the order beginning on lap 65. After Busch hit pit road on lap 73 for service, the "Blue Deuce" crew's 12.679-second pit stop had him back in the lead when the stops cycled around on lap 75. Busch continued to lead until Johnson flexed his Chevy's muscle on lap 91, using Reed Sorenson's car as a pick to regain the lead. From that point on, it was smooth sailing for the three-time champion who is attempting to make it an unprecedented four titles in-a-row.

Johnson only lost the lead for a few laps during another sequence of green-flag stops and emerged a 1.033-second winner over second-place finisher Jeff Burton. It was Johnson's seventh win of the season, his fourth win of the Chase and 47th victory overall.

Busch was again chasing the track as the race progressed, not able to get the grip he desired as tire rubber was laid into the racing surface. He had faded to fifth on lap 238 and requested his team "undo" changes made on the previous visit to pit road. The next stop came on lap 243 and the added track bar and wedge adjustments understandably slowed the stop somewhat.

Busch was seventh when that round of pit stops cycled around with 62 laps remaining in the race. He had fallen to more than eight seconds behind the leader and three seconds behind Truex, who was running sixth at the time.

The race went caution-free from that point on. Busch was able to pass Clint Bowyer during the final 10 circuits for sixth and was closing in on fifth-place Truex when the laps ran out.

Johnson scored the win, with Burton second, Denny Hamlin third, Mark Martin fourth and Truex fifth. Busch, Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Gordon and David Reutimann rounded out Sunday's top-10 finishers. Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish, Jr., and Brad Kesolowski finished 17th and 37th, respectively, here today in a race slowed by only four cautions for a total of 23 laps.

Johnson enters the final race of the '09 season with a 108-point advantage over Martin and needs only to finish 25th or better in order to claim his record fourth consecutive series points championship.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for next weekend's 2009 season finale. Friday's practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. kicks off the weekend's action at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday's battle is set for Friday at 3:10 p.m. Saturday's first practice is scheduled from 1:30 p.m. till 2:15 p.m. and the final "happy hour" practice session is scheduled from 2:50 p.m. till 3:50 p.m. Sunday's Ford 400 (400 miles, 267 laps) has a scheduled 3:45 p.m. EST starting time here on this 1.5-mile speed plant located at the north end of the Florida Keys. ABC-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.