Kurt Busch Finishes 14th At Daytona

July 3, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 2, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch started 25th in tonight’s Coke Zero 400 here at Daytona International Speedway and was credited with a 14th-place finish when the dust had settled after a wild conclusion.  Busch was able to lead laps during the battle and proved to have winning potential, but not having the necessary track position during the waning laps proved costly.

“It was pretty incredible out there tonight,” Busch offered when he climbed from his battered Dodge Charger in the garage area after the race.  “Our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge was fast tonight.  It’s a different style racing out there and your approach to how you attack the race is so much different.  We could run up front and lead laps.  We could settle in the back of the pack and just ride.  And when we needed to make a run to the front, we could do that as well.  Once you find your ‘dancing partner’, it’s so hard to change.  There were so many long green-flag runs that your strategy had to be to stick with your partner and ride.”

Due to getting separated at the drop of the green flag, Busch was never able to hook up with Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski in tonight’s 400-mile battle under the lights on this 2.5-mile track.  Instead, he became the “tandem-mate” with Regan Smith, the driver that he drafted so well with here during the 2011 Speed Weeks back in February.

Busch and Smith hooked up on the second lap and went on to run as a tandem till the final circuits of the race.  They had drafted up to 12th and 13th on Lap 4 when the first caution flag flew when Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne got into the wall.  The tandem cracked the top 10 on Lap 10 and was among the top-five drivers on Lap 16.  Smith pushed Busch into the lead on Lap 17.  Busch would go on to lead two times for a total of six laps during the race.

Only six cautions for a total of 21 laps slowed tonight’s race pace and saw the lead cycled around several times after a series of green flag stops were the order.  Busch and Smith were just logging laps and running 23rd and 24th, respectively, when the final scheduled green-flag stops began on Lap 130.  The duo hit pit road on Lap 140 for right-side tires and fuel and emerged running 22nd and 23rd when the stops cycled around on Lap 142.

Kevin Harvick and RCR teammate Paul Menard went with fuel only on their final stops and led with 18 laps remaining.  Busch and Smith were 7.498 seconds behind when the stops cycled around.  With Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin riding in another tandem behind Busch and Smith, they chased down the lead pack and were up to 15th and 16th with eight laps remaining.

However, with water and oil temperatures becoming a concern, Busch and Smith exchanged roles with seven laps remaining and fell to 21st and 22nd in the running order.  Martin and Gordon got squirrely on Lap 158 and Kasey Kahne moved up the track to make contact and spin Gordon out to bring out the fifth caution of the race.

On the first green-white checkered restart, Ryan Newman led, with Denny Hamlin second, Matt Kenseth third, David Ragan fourth and Brian Vickers fifth.  Kahne, Harvick, Joey Logano, Menard and Martin completed the top-10 drivers at the time.  Smith lined up 19th and Busch was 20th.

On the Lap 163 restart, a multi-car crash stacked up some 15 cars.  Busch looked to have cleared the melee, only to get tagged in the driver’s door by Martin when his Chevy shot straight up the race track.

NASCAR officials did not immediately call Busch to pit road for the loose sheet metal on the driver’s door area, but they eventually did.  Busch hit pit road for repairs on Lap 165.  The official in the No. 22 pit waited till the last moment to advise crew chief Steve Addington that they also needed to address the damage done to the right-rear of the car.  Addington sent Busch back around the track for another trip to pit road where the team finished repairs and bolted on four fresh Goodyear race tires.

Busch was 26th on the second green-white-checked restart on Lap 168.  Another multi-car crash occurred on the dash to the checkered flag, with cars spinning in all directions.  Spotter Chris Osborne did a tremendous job in helping Busch maneuver through the carnage, with the “Double-Deuce” Dodge driver plowing through the infield grass to score a 14th-place finish.

“It’s a tough deal getting collected in that wreck,” Busch said.  “Regan (Smith) and I were making our move and then I just saw smoke and cars spinning in front of us.  I was just about to miss it on the high groove, but got clipped and that nearly ripped the entire driver-side door off.  We had to come in under caution and make some repairs; that cost us all of our track position.  To restart 20-something and come home with a 14th-place finish is amazing.  Not to mention that I did it flying through the grass sideways!  A decent point’s night for us.  You just never know how these things are going to end.”

“This is some strange racing,” said Addington.  “After we got collected late in that big wreck, I was going to stay out despite having half a door.  But then NASCAR called us in under caution and made us fix the driver side door.  We dropped back to restart 26th or so on the restart and it’s amazing that we ended up 14th.  Kurt drove a great race.  We got hooked-up with the 78 (Regan Smith) and just rode around all night.  So much of this kind of racing is out of your control.  You just try and put yourself in position to have a shot at winning at the end.  We just got caught up in the wrecks.  Our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge was fast.  We had a great car.  We’ll take a 14th and head to Kentucky.”

At the finish line here tonight, it was Ragan picking up his first career Sprint Cup victory (in 163 career starts) under the yellow, with teammate Kenseth second, Logano third, Kahne fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.  Gordon, Harvick, Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger completed the top-10 finishers.  Tony Stewart, Vickers, Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Keselowski rounded out tonight’s top-15 drivers.

After 17 races have now been put into the 2011 NASCAR record book, it is Harvick leading the points with 586.  Carl Edwards is second with 581.  Kyle Busch is third with 576 and Kurt Busch is fourth with 570.  Kenseth rounds on the top-five drivers with 564 points.  Johnson (also 564), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (534), Gordon (519), Clint Bowyer (505) and Newman (498) round out the top-10 drivers.

Keselowsi is shown as 22nd in the standings.  With 428 points, he trails 20th-place Logano by only 11 points.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now makes its maiden voyage to Kentucky Speedway next weekend for the inaugural running of the Quaker State 400.  The weekend will see an expanded schedule.  Teams will have the opportunity to participate in two “test sessions” on Thursday, with the first set from 11:05 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. and the second from 4:00 p.m. till 6:00 p.m.  Friday’s schedule calls for practice sessions from 11:30 a.m. till 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. till 3:00 p.m.  The 5:10 p.m. Friday qualifying session will establish the 43-car starting field for Saturday’s race.  Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 is a 267-lap, 400.5-mile battle around the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval, with the green flag expected to fall just after 7:30 p.m. EDT.  Race No. 18 of 36 points-paying events on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by TNT-TV and PRN Radio.