Kurt Busch Has To Settle For 10th in New Hampshire

July 17, 2011

LOUDON, N.H. (July 17, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil/AAA Dodge driver had a solid top-three race car for the majority of Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  He led two times for 66 laps (second most) and was still holding down a top-five spot until the final circuit around this flat 1.058-mile oval.  But he came up a lap short in trying to stretch his mileage on the last run and had to coast to a 10th-place finish.
"It was a good hard-fought battle for our team," Busch said after climbing from his car back in the garage area.  "We led laps early on and then had a little bit of a fade.  It was a battle at the end trying to decide if we needed to come in and top off (fuel), put fresh tires on it or defend our track position.  All in all, it was a good day.  We'll take that 10th-place finish. We just need to polish up and be better when we come back here in the Chase.  That's what it's all about, being strong at the end.  My guys with the Shell-Pennzoil/AAA Dodge did a good job today.
"We were on the defensive side hanging on to our track position today, we weren't on the offense," said Busch.  "We ended up running out of gas on the last lap, but we put ourselves in position to try and get the best finish we could and 10th was that today.  It was warm, but you always have to battle it (heat).  I love July and August, it's nice and hot out."
Busch started today's race from the fourth spot and proved to be a factor from the drop of the green flag.  He worked his way toward the front and passed pole-winner Ryan Newman for the lead on Lap 41.  He fell to ninth on the Lap 64 restart after the second caution of the race when he took on four tires while others opted for two.
As was the case for many of the competitors here this afternoon, Busch's car seemed to be too loose on four tires and a two-tire stop proved more beneficial.  For Busch, not only was a two-tire stop key for getting the valuable track position, but it also worked to tighten up his Dodge Charger.
Busch took on right-side tires only on his Lap 145 pit stop under the fourth caution period of the day.  That shot him up into the lead again on the Lap 149 restart.  Busch went on to lead until Tony Stewart got underneath for the point spot on Lap 194.
With the teams on varying two-tire versus four-tire strategies, Busch took on four tires during his Lap 217 pit stop under the eighth caution period of the day.  That relegated him to 12th for the Lap 221 restart.  Crew Chief Steve Addington had already hinted that his driver was going to have to go into a fuel-conserving mode.  That was certainly the case when he began coaching his driver to try to squeeze the final 85 circuits out of a fuel supply calculated to go only 80 laps.
Addington and Busch worked solidly together during the final run to the finish, with their communication effort being top-notch.  Addington was giving Busch his lap times versus the car in front and the car behind for the remainder of the race.  Busch was fifth with four laps to go when Jeff Gordon had a tire go down and he ran out of fuel at the same time.  That moved Busch up to fourth with two laps remaining.
The "Double-Deuce" appeared to be heading to another top-five finish before Busch's Dodge sputtered out of Turn 2 on the final lap as he was running out of fuel and he had to nurse it back to the finish line.  Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski was there to give him a push back around to pit road on the cool-down lap.  Busch's hopes for the  top-five finish had fallen by the wayside and he had to settle for his 11th top-10 tally of the season instead.
At the finish, it was Newman picking up his 15th career Sprint Cup win by 0.773 seconds over teammate and car-owner Stewart.  Newman squeezed just enough fuel mileage out of his Chevy to make the distance, while Stewart had pitted for fuel and tires and restarted 21st to make his charge back up through the field.  Newman's victory marked the 13th different driver to win a race in the first 19 races of the season.  Only 13 drivers won races during the entire 2010 schedule.
Denny Hamlin was also able to go the distance on his fuel load and finished third, with Joey Logano fourth and Jimmie Johnson overcoming a multitude of adversity to finish fifth.  Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Busch rounded out today's top-10 finishers.
"I'm proud of this team; we had a fast Shell-Pennzoil/AAA Dodge," said Addington after the race.  "We couldn't get off the corner the way we needed.  We fought that.  That forced us into a strategy of playing the track-position game instead of coming in and topping off (fuel).  We went from fourth to 10th on the last lap when we ran out of fuel."
Busch's finish here today saw him climb to third in the Sprint Cup standings with seven races remaining to determine the 12 drivers that will compete in this year's edition of the Chase.  After 19 races, Carl Edwards is the points leader with 652 points.  Johnson is second with 645 and Busch third with 641 (11 points out of the lead).  Kevin Harvick is fourth with 637 and Kyle Busch fifth with 632.  Rounding out the top-10 drivers at this point are Matt Kenseth (626), Gordon (587), Newman (586) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (577) and Hamlin (570).  Kurt Busch has now built up a 71-point "cushion" over 11th-place Stewart in the quest to make the Chase.
Keselowski smacked the wall on Lap 144 after blowing a tire.  The Miller Lite Dodge driver was relegated to the garage for repairs.  He returned to finish 35th.  The "Blue Deuce" driver fell to 23rd in the points and trails 20th-place Mark Martin by 25 points.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now gets its final off weekend next week before coming back to action for the final 17 weeks straight.  Next on tap for the tour is the return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The July 31 Brickyard 400 (400 miles, 160 laps around 2.5-mile IMS track) is scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. ET start, with ESPN and IMS Radio Network beginning their coverage of the event an hour earlier.