Kurt Busch Posts Runner-Up Finish At Phoenix
November 10, 2008AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 9, 2008) - Kurt Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Dodge Team posted their most solid weekend of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season in the Checker/O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 here at Phoenix International Raceway. After grabbing the third starting spot in Friday's qualifying here at the "Desert Mile," Busch led laps, was a top-three competitor the majority of the race and came home as the runner-up finisher.
"I have to thank my crew and crew chief Pat Tryson," Busch said. "We made great adjustments all day. My guys did a tremendous job in the pits all race long; they were awesome. I love working for Roger Penske. The Miller Lite Dodge was fast. We really put up a fight. I was proud to finish second today.
"We did have three or four opportunities to go for Jimmie," Busch said of race-winner Jimmie Johnson, who now holds a 141-point lead in the battle for the Sprint Cup Championship. "It's something special. I don't know if I'm supposed to talk about my team and my crew right now or what Jimmie is doing in this sport. We were pretty good today, but we weren't that good (as good as the No. 48). What he's building on and what they're (No. 48 team) doing with three championships in a row, it's something very special. I encourage all the fans to come out and watch and be there on TV, Jimmie Johnson is putting a whooping on everybody.
"We had a great car today and we got beat by an even better team," Busch added. "I love putting up a fight at the end to go for the win. We had plenty of opportunities. We just got beat by a better car. We felt like we had a great race today. We had a great racecar underneath us. We had a great effort all around with pit stops, changes during the race, nice and steady progress all day. We thought we were on our game. We thought we had most of the group covered, but we just got beat and we got beat by something special."
Busch started third behind pole-winner Johnson and second-place starter Jamie McMurray. While McMurray led the first lap, Johnson powered to the front on the next lap, showing that he was not in a conservative mode as he is fighting for his third consecutive series points championship.
Elliott Sadler's spin in between Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 20 brought out the first yellow flag of the race. While most of the leaders went with four fresh tires, Tryson made the call for right-sides only and the strategy paid off. Busch was first off pit road and had the lead on the Lap 24 restart.
The "2 car" maintained the lead through two other caution periods and was out front when the caution flew for precipitation on Lap 38. The rain got heavy enough that the officials had to display the red flag on Lap 43 and it required a 23-minute drying up period before the race could resume.
Busch controlled the lead until Johnson ran him down and made the inside pass to regain the lead on Lap 81. The first round of green-flag stops began on Lap 96. Busch had faded to fourth when he pit road on Lap 101. Johnson pitted the following lap.
The stops cycled around on Lap 110, with Johnson leading, McMurray second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, Jeff Gordon fourth and Busch fifth. That would be the worst running position Busch would be in for the remainder of the race.
Busch, racing with the new Dodge R6P8 power plant for the fifth time this season, faced a major scare on Lap 168 when all the engine overheating lights went red. Debris was clogging his front grill area and the water temperature shot up to 270 degrees.
In a great display of teamwork, Busch worked through his spotter to have teammate Ryan Newman, running laps down due to earlier tire and suspension problems come to the rescue. Newman slowed to allow Busch to run right up on his rear bumper in order to suck the paper from the front of his "Blue Deuce." Once the debris was off the grill opening, the temperatures immediately started decreasing and the red warning lights went off.
The remainder of the race would prove incident-free for Busch and crew as the battle for the win came down to a three-man shootout with Johnson and McMurray. The race was red-flagged again on Lap 273 due to an eight-car pileup which left David Gilliland's car sitting on top of Scott Speed's No. 84 Toyota.
A three-car spin involving Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon brought out the 10th and final caution on Lap 306. That set up the final restart on Lap 311 that produced another green-white-checkered finish.
Johnson led when the race returned to green, but Busch did a tremendous job in hanging on and not allowing the No. 48 car to get a big advantage. The two ran a tight one-two tandem down to the wire with Johnson taking the win by a mere 0.296 seconds over Busch's Miller Lite Dodge. It was Busch's fifth top-five finish and 10th top-10 tally of the season.
McMurray finished third, with Carl Edwards fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Earhardt, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and David Ragan rounded out today's top-10 finishers. Penske Racing's rookie competitor, Sam Hornish Jr. finished 33rd, completing 308 of the 313 laps, while Newman finished 34th, completing 302 laps.
With only next weekend's 2008 season finale remaining on the schedule, Busch remains 19th in the point standings with 3,601 points. He is 607 behind 13th-place Ragan and 334 behind 15th-place Kasey Kahne. He is 43 points behind 17th-place McMurray and 34 points behind 18th-place Newman.
Johnson must only finish 36th or better in next Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in order to win his third consecutive series points championship.
Friday's practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. kicks off this 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.
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