Early-Race Crash Leads to 40th-Place Finish For Kurt Busch

July 28, 2008

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (July 27, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch was already "in the conservation mode" early in today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he spun and hit the wall, relegating him to a 40th-place finish. Chances are that few will ever recall Busch's dismal finish here today due to the race turning into a debacle for NASCAR officials and tire-manufacturer Goodyear.

After experiencing heavy tire wear during practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, NASCAR officials were counting on history to hold true again Sunday. They expected the track to get "rubbered-in" as it has in the past, with excessive tire wear becoming a "non-factor" as the cars logged laps and pounded rubber into the abrasive asphalt.

Such was not the case, as the first race utilizing the heavier and bulkier "COT" cars became a battle of survival. No more than 12 continuous laps were run under the green before the smart and safety-conscious officials had thrown a "competition yellow" or drivers had encountered problems that brought out the caution flag.

Busch started today's race in the seventh starting spot and was already aware that officials planned a "competition yellow" after 10 laps under the green. When Michael Waltrip got into the wall in Turn 2 on the third lap of the race, officials backed up that mandated caution flag to Lap 14.

Fighting a car that was tight in some areas of the track and loose in others, Busch fell out of the top 10 and had crew chief Pat Tryson counting down the laps until the field could hit pit road again under the yellow. Coming around to get the caution on Lap 14, Busch moved high on the track, hoping to allow Kevin Harvick room, only to see the loose handling condition send him into a spin. When he collected Harvick in the process, the incident brought out the second caution flag instead of the planned "competition yellow."

Both Busch and Harvick sustained substantial damage to their race cars and were sidelined from the competition when it returned to green-flag conditions several laps later.

"We were already in the conservation mode heading to the competition yellow. I saw he had a good run on me so I moved on up the track in the corner trying to give him some room," Busch said of the run-in with Harvick that brought out the yellow. "It just snapped loose on me and when I tried to correct it, I get into his rear quarter-panel. I hate that it happened. It was my fault. I hate it for our Miller Lite Dodge and I really am sorry I ruined his day, too."

Tryson and crew repaired the damage done to the right-side and front and rear suspension of their No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge back in the garage and Busch returned to the competition on Lap 53. By then, teammate Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and several other drivers had experienced setbacks due to the tire situation. NASCAR officials were throwing "competition yellows" at a rate of one every 10 laps as right-rear tires were wearing down to the cords.

Goodyear even brought tires built for use next week at Pocono in on Sunday morning in case the teams ran out before they completed 400 miles. That switch didn't have to be made, but there wasn't much room to spare. Most teams bolted on their final sets of Indianapolis tires on their final pit stop. Busch, Tryson and crew were "on call" to assist teammates Newman and rookie Sam Hornish Jr. if additional tires were needed, but that was not the case.

Up front, the race turned into a seven-lap dash to the finish. With the final "competition yellow" displayed at Lap 150 of the 160-lap race, Denny Hamlin led the field down pit road. But it was Jimmie Johnson, the pole-winner who had shown he had the dominant car for the majority of the race, making a quick two-tire change and picking up the lead for the Lap 153 restart.

Although Carl Edwards proved to pose a challenge during the closing laps, Johnson came home the winner by 0.332 seconds over runner-up Edwards. It was Johnson's second win in this race in the last three years. Hamlin came home third, with Elliott Sadler fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth. Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and A.J. Almendinger rounded out Sunday's top-10 finishers.

Busch's Penske teammates Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 13th and 21st, respectively. While the race will certainly be remembered as a total nightmare for the officials and the tire manufacturers, the precautionary moves for safety allowed an amazing 36 drivers to finish in the lead leap, completing all 160 laps of competition.

The race will go down into the history books with an incredible six of 11 caution flags noted as "competiton yellows" with 52 of the 160 laps run under the caution flag. The race was slowed to a 115.117 mph average speed for the distance and it took 3 hours, 28 minutes and 29 seconds to complete.

"It was pretty weird out there today, that's for sure," Tryson said after the race. "I've been doing this for as long as anybody out here and it pretty much sets a precedent for anything I've ever seen. I'm confident that NASCAR and Goodyear did everything they possibly could in facing the situation we had. We just have to hold hope that there's some good that can come out of this on down the road by something like this happening."

Even after the disappointing finish, Busch maintained his 18th-place position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. But with 2,081 points, he now trails 12th-place Clint Bowyer by 281 points for the final "Chase-eligible" spot with only six races remaining to determine the teams competing for the 2008 series championship.

The "Cup tour" now heads back to Pocono Raceway in the "Keystone State" for next Sunday's running of the Pennsylvania 500. Busch is the defending champion of the event. Next Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 (200 laps/500 miles) has a 2:00 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.