Busch Post 23rd-Place Finish at Martinsville

March 29, 2010

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (March 29, 2010) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch showed muscle during the early going with his Penske Racing "Blue Deuce" Charger and his Steve Addington-led team massaged their car back into competitive form during the middle stages of the race. But a loose wheel with a little over 100 laps remaining in Monday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway proved to be too costly to overcome. Busch wound up finishing 23rd in today's rain-delayed short track battle, but remained sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings after six races have been put into the 2010 record book.

"Man, I just can't seem to ever catch a break here at this old place," Busch said of what he experienced during today's battle, his 20th career race at the shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour. "We led early and then the handling started going away. Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys started working with some wedge and track bar adjustments that brought the car back to life. We were back up to sixth when we had a loose right-front wheel. That forced us to pit under green which dropped us two laps down. We stayed out there under the caution with 75 to go and took the wave-around to get back to just one lap down. We got ourselves in the lucky dog spot, but just couldn't get the yellow flag when we needed it. (Today was) Just a typical Martinsville race for us."

After starting sixth in the race when Sunday's schedule got rained out, Busch was a mainstay among the top-five drivers for the first 200 laps. He led laps twice during the first 130 laps on occasions where he was battling side-by-side with leader Jeff Gordon after double-file restarts.

Busch was solidly in the lead on Lap 140 after clearing Gordon. He passed leader Mark Martin on Lap 181 to gain the lead again before his car's handling started to go awry. Busch fell back as far as 14th in the running order before getting a caution flag and having the opportunity to hit pit road for adjustments.

Crew chief Addington called Busch to pit road on Lap 236 and again during the eighth caution period on Lap 303. A combination of air pressure, track bar and wedge adjustments brought the Miller Lite Dodge back to life, especially those made on a Lap 364 pit stop under the 10th caution period.

Busch had climbed back up to sixth in the running order on Lap 380 before a vibration got so severe that Addington called Busch down pit road under the green on Lap 386 for right-side tires. The culprit turned out to be a loose right-front wheel and the unscheduled stop relegated Busch to running 28th and two laps down to the leaders. Busch returned to the action and tried unsuccessfully to get back one of the lost laps by racing the leaders hard with his fresh tires.

When Regan Smith stalled and brought out the 11th yellow flag on lap 421, Busch stayed out, gained back one of the lost laps and was in a position to get the "lucky dog" free pass back onto the lead lap. Busch ran in that spot for almost 40 laps, but never got the caution flag he needed to return to the lead lap.

By the time the next yellow flag flew, this one on Lap 492 when Jeff Burton had tire problems and got into the Turn 3 wall, Busch was again two laps down to the leader. Running on severely worn left-side tires, Busch hit pit road one final time for fresh rubber. After that, he was destined to finish the race as the first car running two laps down, finishing 23rd and completing 506 of the 508 laps.

"What's so sad is that it was definitely the best car that I've had here in years," said Busch. "We led laps and made changes that the car responded favorably to. That is promising and shows progress here on this tough old track, I believe."

Today's race was definitely the "survival of the fittest" type of race that Martinsville Speedway is known for. Kevin Harvick was the points leader entering the weekend and started from the pole when Friday's qualifying got rained out. He led early in the race before brake issues put him behind the wall twice en route to a 35th-place finish. Burton led five times for 140 laps and appeared to have the car capable of giving eventual winner Denny Hamlin a run for the win. But a late-race tire problem relegated him to a 20th-place finish.

Even Hamlin, who led the most laps here today (six times for 172 laps), almost ended up without making a trip to Victory Lane. Under the 12th caution of the day, Hamlin chose to pit for four tires while most of the other lead lap drivers remained on the track. Hamlin had to make up nine positions in the final 10 laps and was aided by a final caution when Paul Menard punted Kyle Busch into the outside wall and set up a green-white-checkered finish. That set up an exciting restart with Matt Kenseth trying to pass leader Jeff Gordon on the inside. The fireworks broke out and Hamlin shot to the inside past all the cars to lead with a lap to go.

Hamlin came home the winner by a margin of 0.670 seconds over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano. Gordon was able to hang on for third, with Ryan Newman finishing fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth. Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out today's top-10 finishers. Brad Keselowski led today's three-car Penske Racing effort with his 12th-place finish, while Sam Hornish Jr. finished just behind in 13th.

Johnson may not have won Monday's race and continued his domination here, but his ninth-place finish moved him into the lead in the Sprint Cup points after six races. He holds down a 14-point advantage over second-place Biffle. Busch maintained his sixth spot and now trails leader Johnson by 122 points. After six races, here are the top-12 points players, with wins and deficit to first:

1) #48 Jimmie Johnson [3 wins] 898
2) #16 Greg Biffle 884 -14
3) #17 Matt Kenseth 882 -16
4) #29 Kevin Harvick 837 -61
5) #31 Jeff Burton 785 -113
6) #2 Kurt Busch [1 win] 776 -122
7) #24 Jeff Gordon 773 -125
8) #14 Tony Stewart 770 -128
9) #33 Clint Bowyer 747 -151
10) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 739 -159
11) #98 Paul Menard 735 -163
12) #83 Brian Vickers 734 -164

Keselowski is now 27th in the standings with 551 points, while Hornish is 30th with 516.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour takes next week's Easter Weekend off before heading out to Phoenix International Raceway for the April 10 Subway Fresh Fit 600. The 600-kilometer (375 laps, 375 miles) battle on Phoenix's "Desert Mile" starts at 4:30 p.m. local time (7:30 p.m. EDT) and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.