Kurt Busch Finishes 17th in Auto Club 400 In California

March 28, 2011

FONTANA, Calif. (March 27, 2011) – Kurt Busch drove his "Double-Deuce" Auto Club Dodge Charger to a 17th-place finish in today's Auto Club 400 here at Auto Club Speedway.  Busch came into the weekend as the points leader by a single point over Carl Edwards.  Today's finish dropped him to third in the standings after five races.  With 177 points, he trails leader Edwards by 10 points and is one point behind second-place Ryan Newman.
"(It was a) tough weekend for the Auto Club Dodge Charger," Busch said after the race.  "We unloaded slow and never found speed. The short practice on Friday (because of rain) really hurt and we couldn't find the balance that we needed to be fast.  We threw everything we could today at the track – bars, air pressures, spring rubbers, you name it.  The car never reacted to the track. With a big two-mile oval like Auto Club, carrying speed through these big sweeping corners is critical to be fast.
"We struggled getting over the bumps and getting our car to rotate through the corners like we needed," added Busch.  "It's disappointing because we wanted to come here and extend our point lead and gain some momentum heading into Martinsville next weekend.  We went in the wrong direction.  It's a long season...a marathon, not a sprint.  We'll put this behind us and head back and do some more short-track racing next week."
Busch started 23rd and struggled with a tight handling condition from the drop of the green flag.  He and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski ran in a tandem just outside the top 20 for the majority of the race.  Two-tire pit strategy by crew chief Steve Addington had Busch up as high as 10th just before the race's midpoint, but the handling woes and a lengthy pit stop on Lap 104 to remove a spring rubber dropped him to 22nd for the Lap 107 restart.
With leader Kyle Busch logging laps consistently fourth-tenths of a second faster than his older brother and with so few cautions, the "Double-Deuce" fell a lap down with 47 laps remaining.  The "22 car" had just pitted and lost out on getting the "lucky dog" free pass when the third caution flew on Lap 170.
Busch, Addington and crew caught the break they needed on Lap 185 when a Bobby Labonte crash brought out the fourth yellow flag and awarded their Auto Club Dodge the free pass back onto the lead lap.  During the caution, the team did all it could to prepare for a short sprint to the finish, working with the air pressures and putting additional tape on the grill.
Busch lined up 25th for the final restart with nine laps remaining.  He scratched and clawed all the way up to 17th before the laps ran out.
The battle for the win here today was an exciting one.  The younger Busch had led five times for 151 of the 200 laps and led until there were only three laps remaining.  Jimmie Johnson was able to pass for the lead then, but Kevin Harvick mounted a charge to get around for the lead and the win on the final circuit around this 2.0-mile D-shaped oval.  His margin of victory over runner-up Johnson was a mere 0.144 seconds.  Kyle Busch was third, with Matt Kenseth fourth and Newman fifth.  Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-10 finishers.
The remainder of the lead-lap finishers here today included (in order in positions 11-25) Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, A.J. Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Landon Cassill and Joey Logano.  Keselowski finished in the 26th spot as the lead car running one lap down.
"That's certainly not what we came here for and we know we really have our work cut out for us," Addington offered after the race.  "That 17th was probably better than we deserved with the way things were going.  We got the ‘lucky dog,' set Kurt up for a short run and he just drove the wheels off of it.  We had like a 25th-place car and Kurt got up on the wheel and got all he could out of it after that last restart.  We'll take our lumps and learn from it this weekend."
Edwards leads the points with 187 and Newman is second with 178.  Kurt Busch is third with 177, followed by Kyle Busch with 176 and Johnson with 173 in rounding out the top five drivers.  Stewart is sixth with 170, with Menard (164) seventh, Montoya (161) eighth, Harvick (157) ninth and Kenseth (also 157) 10th.  Keselowski has 107 points and is shown in 23rd in the standings after five races.

The Sprint Cup tour now heads to the smallest track on the circuit – the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway – for the sixth race of the 2011 season.  The short-track action gets under way with Friday's opening practice from 12:30 until 2:00 p.m.  The final practice is set for Friday from 3:30 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday's 500-lap battle is set for Saturday at 12:10 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV).  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.