Busch Earns Ninth-Place Finish in Phoenix
November 15, 2010AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 14, 2010) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch persevered mid-race handling woes in today's Kobalt Tools 500 here at Phoenix International Raceway to post a solid ninth-place finish and climb back to 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings with only next week's season finale in Homestead, Fla., remaining on the 2010 schedule.
"We'll take the top-10 finish," Busch said of only his second top-10 finish in the first nine races of the 10-race Chase. "Our Miller Lite Dodge was a little temperamental today. We did our job on Friday (in qualifying) to get a solid starting position (third) and we just weren't able to capitalize on the early track position that we had. After the second stop, we kept working on the Miller Lite Dodge with air and wedge adjustments and the car didn't react the way that we needed it to. Most of the middle of the race we just fought tight in, loose in the center and loose off, and it cost us too much track position.
"Around lap 235, we pitted for a second time after 10 laps or so to get back to an earlier combination that the car liked," Busch said. "From there, the car really responded and it was obvious that it may come down to fuel mileage. Steve (Addington, crew chief) said we were good to go to the end (of the race) and if it stayed green, we could make it on fuel. It was a solid day, but we need to get a better balance on the car. For us, it comes down to working on getting the front end to work better in the center of the corner."
Busch began today's race from the third starting spot and led 20 laps in the early going. But as the lap count continued and the track began to get "rubbered in," Busch's car began to lose grip with the front end and he began to fall back. He fell back as far as 15th in the running order, but Addington and crew continued to massage on their chassis during the race that was slowed by only five caution periods for a total of 25 laps.
Fortunately for Busch, he was among the group of drivers who pitted under the fourth caution of the race on Lap 224 and then again under the fifth yellow on Lap 235. Pitting that second time gave Busch enough fuel to go the distance, as several of the frontrunners got bitten by fuel mileage at the end of the race. The adjustments Addington and crew made on their final stop put the "Blue Deuce" back in competitive shape for the stretch run.
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who had top-three cars for most of the race, were short on fuel and opted to short-pit on Lap 298 and give up their spots up front, while race-winner Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were among those who opted for fuel conservation strategy during the final laps.
At the checkers, it was Edwards taking the win, his first since 2008, by 4.770 seconds over runner-up Ryan Newman. Joey Logano finished third, with Greg Biffle fourth and Johnson fifth. Harvick finished sixth, with Matt Kenseth seventh, Mark Martin eighth Kurt Busch ninth and Jamie McMurray 10th. Jeff Gordon wound up 11th, with Hamlin 12th and Kyle Busch 13th. Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. finished 32nd, while teammate Brad Keselowski finished 42nd after crashing out of the race on Lap 58 due to tire issues.
After today's finish, Hamlin's lead entering next Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has been drastically cut. Hamlin (with 6,462 points) leads Johnson by a mere 15 points and Harvick by only 46.
Kurt Busch is battling hard to finish in the top-10 in the points. The 2004 NASCAR Champion enters next weekend in the 10th spot with 6,033 points. Only 115 points separate seventh-place Kyle Busch (6,115 points) from 12th-place Jeff Burton (5,958 points).
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads to South Florida for the final race of the 2010 schedule. Friday's practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. kicks off this weekend's action at Homestead. 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 1:00 p.m. EST starting time here on this 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.
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