News & Media

Fuel gamble nets Busch best finish of season

May 30, 2011, David Caraviello,

CONCORD, N.C. -- After going a lap down with loose wheel, battles back with great pit calls

Radio tirades, loose wheels, slow race cars and disappointing finishes. It's been a brutal spring for Kurt Busch, who one year ago came to Charlotte Motor Speedway and swept both events in May. This time around, the same race track provided him with a little solace.

What seemed another struggle of a race after Busch was forced to pit with a loose wheel turned into his best finish of the season, a fourth-place showing in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 that came courtesy of a fuel gamble. One of 10 drivers who took the chance of staying out of the pits late and trying to win on fumes, Busch nearly made it work, skirting around a restart pile-up to post only his second top-10 since Bristol back in March.

"We got lucky. People were spinning their tires and struggling to get fuel to their carburetor."


"It's amazing that we can race 600 miles and it comes down to a green-white-checkered finish and fuel mileage," said Busch, who also improved two positions in points to sixth. "That's the excitement that this sport brings, and you never know when it's going to be your time to have fuel or not. [Sunday] we had enough, and [crew chief] Steve [Addington] made a great call to come in and top off for fuel. It worked out, and we made the right calculations to make it to the end of the race."

That top-off came on Lap 297, when Busch and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski came in together to each get two tires and top off the fuel tank, a move that helped the No. 22 car finish NASCAR's longest race on only one more full stop. Busch lined up eighth on the final, green-white-checkered restart, and his position on the inside of the track proved fortuitous when leader Kasey Kahne ran out of gas and stacked up the outside lane. Busch dipped low, slipped around two cars that spun in the aftermath, and had enough in the tank to post his best result of the year.

"We got lucky," said Busch, who finished fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500. "People were spinning their tires and struggling to get fuel to their carburetor."

Among the unlucky was Busch's teammate Keselowski, the pole winner for the event, who happened to be right behind Kahne when the race leader ran out of gas. The two cars made contact, and Keselowski wound up 19th. "Unfortunately," Keselowski said, "we wound up three miles short of a top-five finish."

Busch fared much better, and his strong night may very well have been saved by the fact that NASCAR didn't issue a caution and try to restart the race one more time. "We knew that we could make it to one green-white-checker flag," he said. "We didn't think that we could make it to a second."

It was a good finish to what initially shaped up as another frustrating night for a driver who's seen plenty of them this spring, having endured three consecutive season-worst finishes at Talladega, Richmond, and Darlington before salvaging a 14th at Dover in the most recent Sprint Cup points event. Early on, Busch was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop because of a loose wheel, and fell a lap down. He eventually claimed the free pass to get back on the lead lap, clawed back into the top 15, and thanks to fuel strategy found himself among the leaders at the end.

Addington has squeezed a strong Charlotte finish out of fuel mileage before. He was crew chief for J.J. Yeley at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2007 when the then-driver of the No. 18 car finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 on a fuel gamble.

"I've seen fuel mileage wins here before, and I've finished runner-up with it," Addington said. "... We still have a ways to go to get our cars where we need them to get competitive with those Fords. We're headed in the right direction. Everybody stayed focused. The driver stayed focused, and we got a good finish out of it."