News & Media


Busch stutters, sputters to top-10 finish at Kansas

June 06, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Owner Penske has nothing but praise for driver and team on near-miss efforts

Kurt Busch climbed sweating and weary from the sauna that was the cockpit of his No. 22 Dodge on Sunday, believing that he hadn't lost as much as fortunes caused him to not win.

With the television cameras in his face, Busch hid his disappointment long enough to compliment his team, his car and his teammate.

STP 400

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2.Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet
3.Denny Hamlin Toyota
4.Jeff Gordon Chevrolet
5.Carl Edwards Ford

"I'm proud of the way that this team has run," Busch said. "To have a car to lead laps today and be very competitive, I was all smiles. I felt coming into the weekend that if we could pace ourselves, have good team communication, we would be competitive.

"It was great. There was always something in the back of my mind today that we weren't going to win, but I'm glad that Brad Keselowski got this win for those Miller Lite guys, for Dodge. We're really happy to keep AAA up front all day today.

"It's just one of those days where you're on the right side, sometimes you're not. For all my guys, we'll take this one and the points. I'm not discouraged at all."

Discouraged? No. But other emotions were at work, according to the look on Busch's face once the camera turned away.

He had dominated the STP 400, leading more than half of the 267 laps. As the competition hit pit road for the final time, the number of cars on the lead lap dwindled to a mere handful. But he -- and nearly everyone else in attendance at Kansas Speedway -- knew that without another caution, he wouldn't have enough fuel to go the 267-lap distance.

The No. 22 Dodge continued to circle the track with a comfortable 20-second lead over teammate Brad Keselowski while in the car, Busch uncomfortably watched the flagstand, looking for the yellow flag that never came.

Finally, with just seven laps remaining, Busch was forced to make the turn onto pit road for two tires and a splash of fuel, giving up the lead he had cherished and protected all day long. And to compound matters, the carburetor ran dry just as Busch was dropped off the jack, causing the engine to stutter and sputter for most of the next lap before the fuel line refilled with adequate pressure.

Having a car fully capable of winning and not following through is bad enough. But being in a situation where your fate seems predestined and you cannot do enough to change the end result has to be a driver's biggest nightmare.

That was the case for Busch, who knew when he pitted on Lap 205 that barring a caution, he couldn't make it to the checkered flag without additional fuel. That was especially galling, since Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- running on the lead lap behind Busch -- were all on contrarian fuel strategies that meant they didn't need to stop.

"I don't think that people realize how good he really is and sometimes we don't give him the best horse."

--ROGER PENSKE

The race had a fuel economy feel to it right from the start, as the field cycled through the first of several green-flag stops between 40 and 45 laps in. But a series of cautions allowed the leaders to stay in sync, including one for Earnhardt's sideways skid on Lap 154.

However, when the caution came out for debris nine laps later, it set in motion the events that would lead to Busch's eventual downfall. Hamlin, leading but unhappy with his car's handling, ducked onto pit road, along with Earnhardt and several other cars deeper in the field.

And when the race continued to conclusion without a yellow, it played into the hands of Hamlin, Earnhardt and Keselowski, who was able to stretch five more crucial laps out of one tank of fuel than Busch before stopping on Lap 210, allowing him to go the remaining distance for the victory.

Still, car owner Roger Penske had nothing but praise for Busch and his team on their near-miss efforts.

"Kurt's a fantastic driver," Penske said. "I don't think that people realize how good he really is and sometimes we don't give him the best horse. And sometimes he doesn't realize the horse he's on, he's got to tame it to get it to go where he needs it to go.

"It's like today at the beginning of the race. He was concerned about his car and I think the splitter was hitting the ground. And all of a sudden the tire pressure came up and he took off like a shot past the leaders and went on and led most of the laps."