Dramatic restart pulls Kurt Busch closer to Chase
September 02, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Kurt Busch isn’t sure how he did it.
“I can’t tell you what I did right,” the 2004 champion of NASCAR’s top circuit said Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, after taking perhaps his biggest step yet toward getting back into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. “Everything went right on that one.”
That much was obvious. A jaw-dropping restart late in the race propelled Busch to a fourth-place finish, and has the driver of single-car Furniture Row Racing one week from its first playoff berth. On a night when the Chase hopes of defending champion Brad Keselowski took a serious hit and the troubles of Kasey Kahne opened up a top-10 spot, Busch took advantage. He’s now 10th in points, six ahead of Jeff Gordon heading into the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday).
“Now we’re in control. And we go to Richmond and put the pressure on everybody else,” Busch said. “We led a lot of laps earlier this year at Richmond, and we’re in position. If we finish 15th, we weren’t going to be in position. Some guys had trouble tonight, and that helped us jump up. … A lot of things have happened that have gone against us this year. I’m glad tonight something went our way.”
But it was the way it went that made it so spectacular. Busch started the race with what he said was a 15th-place car, and his crew changed just about everything on it over the course of the night. But the No. 78 team’s greatest asset was its driver, who took matters into his own hands on a Lap 293 restart where he lined up 11th and vaulted to second over the course of a single lap.
It was riveting to watch, as Busch charged through the low lane, then sailed high to pass a line of cars through turns 1 and 2, then crossed down to jet around Joey Logano. On Twitter, the move evoked immediate comparisons to Dale Earnhardt’s famous charge at Talladega, where he surged from 18th to first over the final three laps to claim what turned out to be his final career victory. Atlanta, though, is no restrictor-plate track.
“The seas parted,” Busch said. “I’m not going to say I did it all. You have to take advantage of the other people slipping their tires, and you can’t pass before you get to the start/finish line. It just timed out beautifully. I got half of them right after the start/finish line, and I got the other half in 1 and 2 when there was a bottleneck going into Turn 1. Where everybody else was, I went opposite, and it just worked out.”
Even leader Kyle Busch couldn’t help but notice. Riding under caution before the restart, he caught a glimpse of the scoring tower and noticed his big brother was in 11th. When the next caution flew just a lap later for a Brian Vickers slide down pit road, he was shocked to see who was directly behind him.
“When the caution flew after that restart, he was in my mirror, and I'm like, ‘Did everybody wreck? What happened?’ ” Kyle asked. “But the kid was wheeling it, I guess. He got up to second there. I thought that was pretty impressive.”
Kurt was unable to advance any further. He had started the previous restart from the low lane, where drivers were able to make up ground. Up top was something completely different -- and that’s where he found himself on the next restart, lined up on the outside with Kyle down low.
“It seemed like first, third, fifth, that was the place to be,” Kurt said. “I don’t know why the outside was so slick. Even when I got up there, and I was ready to lay one on little brother, man, the tires were just sliding on ice up there.”
Kyle was able to pull away from his brother on the restart and weather one more yellow flag to claim his fourth victory of the season.
“When you're second on a restart, you're in a (sitting) duck situation,” Kyle said. “The top line for some reason, you can't get any bite up there. You can't launch off the corner at all for the restart. And when you're on the bottom, it seems like it's a lot easier to get going, and the leader predicts the restart, so whichever lane he's in it's a lot easier to see that lane move forward just because the throttle application is a lot smoother.”
Mired in the top lane, Kurt fell back to an eventual finish of fourth, still a substantial improvement over where he had run for much of the race. Busch may be headed for a fourth car at Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but he clearly has unfinished business with the No. 78 team. And if he is able to get Furniture Row Racing into the Chase next weekend at Richmond, he’ll be able to look back on one spectacular restart at Atlanta that helped them make it there.
“You have to have moments like that if you’re going to make the Chase with a 15th-place car,” he said. “We finished fourth tonight. We didn’t deserve to finish fourth. … We did all we could with all we had.”