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At Last! Two Days Later ~ Kurt Busch In Victory Lane
By Ron Felix
The race started under yellow and was red-flagged after 10 laps because of thick fog that hampered race officials and team spotters from seeing the cars on the backstretch. The race resumed 32 minutes later with the green flag finally waving at 11 a.m., one hour after the scheduled starting time.
For the loyal fans that stayed to watch the contest, they saw a good race, and in the end it came down to a green-white-checkers finish with Kurt Busch winning the race in near total domination.
We started off a little bit on the tight side with the Miller Lite Dodge and we freed it up from there. It was able to maneuver through traffic," said Busch. "We, fortunately, had flawless pit stops. The guys did an awesome job. Everybody is working so well together and once we get up there with clean air, we’re pretty hard to handle. The motor was awesome again today. I can’t say enough about the motor program we have at Penske.”
Busch led 92 of the 200 laps. It was the second victory of the season for Busch, he also dominated the Pocono track two races ago. It was the 17th career win in 243 races for Busch and puts his Miller Lite Dodge a little deeper in contention for the Chase for the Championship.
“I would say right now we feel very comfortable with where we stand with the mile and a half program," Busch continued. "With the Car of Tomorrow races, we have a good shot. We don’t have the edge now with Pocono and Michigan behind us. The Car of Tomorrow races we’ll have to work hard. Bristol will be survival like it always is. We finished fifth at Richmond in the spring and we’re looking to build on that.
Martin Truex Jr. started last on the field and finished a strong second with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in tow. Denny Hamlin, who became the second driver to get locked into the Chase, finished fifth followed by Dave Blaney, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart to round out the top ten.
“On the last green flag pit stop we lost the clutch, couldn’t get off pit road and lost a couple of laps,” Truex said. “I was happy with the car. It was easy to stay out at the end instead of pitting with some of the others because with of the clutch problem, so we just went to digging and I had a lot of fun at the end. I could smell the victory, but congratulations to Kurt and the Penske crew.”
Stewart wasn't happy with a tenth place run. While the 10th-place effort at Michigan brought Stewart closer to the Chase, it was the furthest things from his mind and that of his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. While most teams revel in a top-10 finish in the ultra-competitive Nextel Cup Series, the No. 20 Home Depot-sponsored team of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) expects more.
“I’m a little disappointed with 10th,” Zipadelli said. “I think at one point in the race we were probably a fourth- to sixth-place car, and we just couldn’t get there. We made adjustments and it just seemed like we couldn’t get that last little bit out of it. We kind of struggled all weekend for some reason. We didn’t take off very good on the front side. It seemed like we were okay if we had long runs, then we started getting all those cautions and that kind of hurt us.”
It couldn't have been much worse for NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He was running second late in the race but on the final pit stop, he made a rookie mistake. Dale Jr. overshot his pit stall on lap 167, and dropped from second place to 13th after the lengthy stop. In the final laps, Dale Jr. crawled back into the top-10 before a fierce battle in the waning laps resulted in a 12th-place finish at the end of the green-white-checkered flag overtime on lap 203.
Earnhardt has been accused in the past of not having his head in the race come late in the season and today's incident seemed to illustrate the point.
"We had a top-five car today and I cost us a lot of positions by over-shooting the pit stall,"Earnhardt said."It was a big miscue and it was all my fault. I took my eyes off our stall for just a second to look at another car that was pitting, and I just missed it. It's my fault and I apologized to my guys."
Earnhardt is now 163 points behind 12th place in points Kurt Busch and an opportunity to place himself in the Chase -- with three races to go before the final ten begins. If it had not been for the 100 point penalty for an unproved wing support, earlier in the year, he would be sitting in a better spot -- only 63 points out of the Chase, and less that that had he not had a mental lapse in today's race.
David Ragan onofficially finished 18th and took Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors for the eighth time this season.
“It’s been a few races since we’ve been the best Raybestos Rookie so that’s a good day today,"said Ragan. "I felt like we lost a little bit those last two restarts. It took our car a few laps to get rolling. Our car was really, really fast all day but we were off just a little bit there at the end. They got the best of me and I felt like we lost three or four spots that we shouldn’t have but all in all an excellent day for the AAA Ford. A top-20 gets some more points and a good way to head into Bristol.”
The Nextel Cup Series moves to Bristol Motor Speedway on this coming Saturday night, August 25th, for the Sharpie 500.
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