During the afternoon, Busch fought an ill-handling Dodge Charger to work with his Steve Addington-led Penske Racing Team and bring it back to top-10 form on several occasions. The emotions ran high and the tight-quartered action produced several spirited one-on-one duels, including one involving Busch and Jeff Gordon.
"Man, just a lot of good, hard Martinsville racing out there today," Busch told the group of media outside his team transporter after the race concluded. "It was a battle for all 500 laps. This place has been a monster for me over the years. We started behind with our Miller Lite Dodge, qualifying 29th on Friday. Anytime you're short-track racing, track position and pit stall selection is critical, especially here. It was a battle. We started back in the pack, worked our way up and gained a ton of track position. Then we came in under green and had to pit a second time because of some loose lug nuts which cost us all of our position.
"We fought our way back inside the top 10, dropped to 15th, back inside the top 12; just a back and forth effort all day for us," Busch continued. "We rubbed fenders, battled and clawed all day. There was a lot of hard racing going on all day. We fought hard and I'm proud of our Miller Lite Dodge guys. I thought we were going to be able to battle home a top 10, but we just didn't get the run we needed on that last long run and dropped to 16th."
When asked about his run-in with Gordon, Busch was straight to the point. "Look, there was good racing all day amongst a lot of guys," he said. "There was respect given for guys when they were getting back to the inside. (He) was on the outside lane on restarts and so yeah, he shoved me in there and I shoved him back in Turn 4. I didn't mean to get into him that hard, but I guess that shows the game we're gonna play. One bump versus another bump, it still seems like the scorecard isn't even."
Busch started today's race from the 29th spot and fell as far back as 31st after facing a severe tight handling condition. Addington and crew threw the kitchen sink as far as adjustments went - wedge, track bar, air pressure changes and even a spring rubber modification - and had Busch running top-five lap times just after the race's mid-point.
After running as high as ninth, loose lugnuts on a Lap 290 pit stop sent Busch back to pit road for a second time and relegated him to back to 25th for the Lap 294 restart. He was able to climb back into the top 10 running order with 100 laps remaining and stayed there until handling woes and another encounter with Gordon dropped him back to his 16th-place finish.
Up front, it was Virginia native Denny Hamlin flexing his muscle once again here and claiming a victory by 2.318 seconds over Mark Martin, who rebounded from an earlier crash and provided an impressive charge back up to the front. Kevin Harvick finished third, with Kyle Busch fourth and Jimmie Johnson fifth. Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowki rounded out the top-10 finishers here today. It was an historical finish for Keselowski, Busch's young Penske Racing teammate, as it was his first top-10 finish in the Cup series.
Jamie McMurray finished 11th, with A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Ken Schrader, Juan Montoya and Gordon rounding out the top-20 finishers here today. Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. finished 25th.
"It was a really tough battle out there today," offered crew chief Addington. "We worked and worked on getting the Miller Lite Dodge better and the car finally started to come around. But it was just a case of being too little and too late. We'll come back at ‘em full force next weekend at Talladega. Anything can happen down there and Kurt really loves running those plate races. We're all looking forward to it, that's for sure."
With four races remaining in the 2010 Chase for the championship, Johnson (5,998 points) holds a six-point lead over Hamlin (5,992 points). Harvick is third (with 5,936 points) and 62 points out of first. Kyle Busch (5,826 points) is fourth and 172 points out of the lead, with Gordon (5,795 points) fifth and 203 points out of the lead. Kurt Busch holds down the ninth spot. With 5,721 points, he is 277 points out of the lead, but only 74 out of fifth.
The Sprint Cup tour now heads back to Talladega Superspeedway for next weekend's AMP Energy Juice 500. The final restrictor-plate race of the season could prove to be the ultimate "wild card race" and really jumble up the point standings for the final three-race battle to the finish.
This weekend's schedule at Talladega begins on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 1:00 p.m. till 1:45 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. Saturday's 11:15 a.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday's 43-car starting field, with all cars impounded immediately after the session. Sunday's AMP Energy Juice 500 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 12:00 noon CT (1:00 p.m. ET) starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.