Busch Finishes Third at Bristol, Up to Sixth in Points

March 21, 2010

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 21, 2010) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch led 278 of the 500 laps and appeared to have the car to beat in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. But after a late-race caution for debris, Busch and his Steve Addington-led Penske Racing Team had to settle for a third-place finish when things didn't pan out right after the final restart for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champ.

"The only weak area that we had was just starting out on fresh tires after a restart and that bit us at the end," said Busch, who has now led 441 laps this season, almost twice more than any other driver. "To pour my heart and soul into this race and try and beat that 48 car, I was trying to hit my marks every lap. I feel exhausted. I feel disappointed. But all and all, to bring the Miller Lite Dodge home in third as a competitive car, that's our job. That's what Roger Penske says, make yourself competitive and things will play out in your favor and other days, they won't play out in your favor.

"I'd rather lose to any of the other 41 cars out there than the 48 car," said Busch, tipping his hat toward race-winner Jimmie Johnson after he thought he was going to beat the Chad Knaus-led Hendrick Motorsports team in impressive fashion here this afternoon. "I thought we had him beat. I gave it my heart today, but we came up short. We were solid all day. We just got beat at the end on the luck of the draw on restarts. That's what our sport is about...luck on which lane is going to go. We did well at Bristol. It was a great day for our Miller Lite Dodge. It's a shame we didn't bring it home for a victory."

Busch started from the outside pole Sunday afternoon and showed his Miller Lite Dodge's strength from the drop of the green flag. He was able to motor by pole-winner Joey Logano to lead the first lap of the race and went on to lead 10 times for the race-high 278 laps. Busch led stretches as long as 58 and 65 laps during the mid-section of today's race, which was completed in its entirety but slowed by cautions three times for rain.

Great pit work all race long by the "Blue Deuce" crew saw Busch continuously enter the pits first and exit in that same position until late-race strategy came into play. Busch, Addington and crew had taken the lead from Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski on Lap 414 when the race returned to green after the ninth caution period of the day. Busch had separated himself from second-place Johnson and appeared to be headed toward his sixth career win on this high-banked half-mile before the 10th caution flag of the race was displayed on Lap 484 for debris.

The immediate call on the "2 team's" radio was for four fresh Goodyear Tires, with Addington also calling for a two-pound increase in air pressure for the right-side tires. All the front-runners headed to pit road, and Busch and Johnson both took four tires on the final stop. Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart all took two tires, giving them the first four positions on the restart. Busch was fifth, Johnson was sixth and the race resumed with 10 laps to go.

Busch had to line up in the low lane while Johnson had the preferred high lane for the restart. Busch hoped that he could maneuver Edwards, who lined up just in front of him, to slow the upper line of cars, but it didn't work out that way. Instead, Kenseth's difficulty getting up to speed stacked up traffic behind him, including Busch, who lost his opportunity to leapfrog his way to the front. Not Johnson, though. He weaved through the mess up to second, Stewart moved into the lead, and Johnson needed just over one lap to pick him off, too. Busch finally cleared Biffle for the third spot with five laps remaining, but couldn't make up any additional ground during the final laps.

At the checkered flag, it was Johnson taking the win by 0.894 seconds over Stewart. The win was Johnson's first-ever here and his 50th overall. Busch finished third, with Biffle fourth and Kenseth fifth. Edwards finished sixth, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh, Jamie McMurray eighth, Kyle Busch ninth and Jeff Burton rounding out today's top-10 finishers.

Keselowski finished 13th, while teammate Sam Hornish Jr. finished 32nd.

"We just got bottled up behind the 99 on the inside lane (on the last restart)," Busch explained. "The guys on the inside lane were on two tires. The outside (lane) seemed to prevail all day long. That's where the 48 was able to restart. When luck shines your way, it shines your way. It's tough to overcome. I felt like we had the effort today, we just came up short and finished third; we'll take it."

"Kurt did a good job," said Addington. "We stayed on top of the race track all day long. He stayed with me there when we put a set of tires on and didn't make any changes that made the car tight. Once we got those swapped out, we were gone. It was the right decision (four tires on the last pit stop). We got hung up there on the restart and got behind. It was the right call; 48 made the same call. The 48 and 2 were the best cars here today. They ran together all day long. He was on the outside and had the preferred groove on that last restart. We had 70 laps on the tires. I wasn't going to put on two tires. The 48 did the same. That was the right decision."

Busch climbed to sixth in the Sprint Cup point standings after posting his second top-five finish and third top-10 in the five races completed so far this season. He trails leader Kevin Harvick by 97 points. Here is the way the top-12 drivers shape up after five of the 36 scheduled 36 points-paying races have been put into the record books: (points position, car number, driver, wins, points and deficit to first)

1) #29-Kevin Harvick 774
2) #17-Matt Kenseth, 773, -1
3) #48-Jimmie Johnson [3 wins], 760, -14
4) #16-Greg Biffle, 750, -24
5) #14-Tony Stewart, 685, -89
6) #2-Kurt Busch [1 win], 677, -97
7) #31-Jeff Burton, 677, -97
8) #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., 621, --153
9) #98-Paul Menard, 614, -160
10) #18-Kyle Busch, 606, -168
11) #24-Jeff Gordon, 603, -171
12) #33-Clint Bowyer, 601, -173

Keselowski is shown as 30th in the standings with 424 points, while Hornish holds down the 33rd spot with 392 points.

The Sprint Cup tour now heads to the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway next week for the second short-track race of the season. This weekend's schedule gets under way with Friday's practice from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday's 500-lap battle is set for Friday at 3:10 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV and MRN Radio). Saturday's final "happy hour" practice session is scheduled from 11:50 a.m. till 12:50 p.m. Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 (500 laps, 263 miles) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. EDT starting time. FOX-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action from Martinsville Speedway.