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Busch's dominant effort undone in one corner

August 16, 2011, David Caraviello,

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- For second week in a row, Busch had lead on final restart only to come up short

Heading for Turn 1 in a green-white-checkered finish at Watkins Glen International, Kyle Busch knew he couldn't drive into the corner too fast. But he could only rein himself in so much.

Busch was dominant for much of Monday's rain-postponed Sprint Cup race on the road course, leading 49 laps -- more than double that of any other driver in the event. And he held that lead into the final restart, until he came into Watkins Glen's chaotic first turn a little too hot, got pushed out a little too wide, and slid backward before regrouping to salvage third place.

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Kyle Busch had a hard time trying to find the positives in his third-place finish Monday at Watkins Glen.

"I just knew exactly what not to do, and did it anyway," said Busch, who narrowly missed his fourth victory of the year. "I just got in there and didn't think I got in there too fast, but the car just didn't slow down the way I needed it to, and then it didn't turn the way I needed it to. I saw sprinkles on the windshield, but everybody else made it fine through there. I just screwed up. I can't say enough about these guys. They gave me a great car, gave me a great piece [Monday]. We were one of the best."

For long stretches of Monday's race, they certainly were. Busch started on the pole, and although he lost the lead on the opening lap, he eventually built an eight-second advantage on the field thanks in part to a two-stop fuel strategy that had the No. 18 on the track longer than much of the competition during its initial fuel run. Busch paced another 23 laps very late in the race, until Paul Menard crashed to bring out a caution with three circuits remaining in regulation to set up a green-white-checkered finish.

"I felt like we were right there, and had a shot to win," Busch said. "I hated to see that last caution. I knew it was going to come down to one corner, and I messed it up."

It wasn't all in vain -- the effort was enough for Busch to take the points lead in a race-victory tiebreak on Carl Edwards. Monday, though, his undoing was the final restart, which extended the scheduled race distance by two laps. He entered Turn 1 too fast, smoked his brakes trying to slow down, and carried so much momentum he slid over the rumble strip and into the asphalt apron area. Suddenly it was three-wide at the point, with Busch on the outside of Brad Keselowski and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose, and quickly running out of room. Busch tried to squeeze his way back in, bounced off Ambrose, and fell back to fourth after his right-side tires got in the grass. For a driver generally regarded as the best restart artist in the business, it was a rare and costly mistake.

"You're just preparing for the restart, and trying to make sure you get your tires warmed up, your brakes warmed up," Busch said. "But there's only one corner you've got to make, and as soon as you make it through that corner and can keep everything behind you it'll be smooth sailing from there, and [I] didn't do it. Screwed up first chance I got. I just got down into Turn 1, didn't stop the way I needed to, and the wheel didn't turn the way I expected it to and over slid the corner. Got too far out to the outside, and by then everybody was just on my inside. So screwed up, and gave one away. Gave another one away."

Busch was also leading at the final restart last week at Pocono Raceway, where Keselowski ultimately prevailed. Monday at Watkins Glen, No. 18 crew chief Dave Rogers said his driver was at something of a disadvantage because they had set up their car to be less powerful but able to finish the race in only two pit stops. Ambrose used a three-stop strategy, Rogers added, so his team was able to give their car a little more oomph.

"We gave up a little power. They didn't, they went full power, they made three stops, so they were certainly faster than us," Rogers said. "... Kyle knew our strategy, and knew [Ambrose's] strategy, so he knew we were giving up power intentionally. Kyle did a phenomenal job of holding them off. But when you're leading coming to the last restart, you think you have a shot at winning. It's just naturally disappointing when you don't. But [Ambrose] had a better car than us."

The two-stop strategy, though, helped Busch maintain track position for the entire race, and the No. 18 car only got faster as the event wore on. Still, the end result was a frustrating one for a team that was forced to seek a silver lining for the second consecutive week.

"This is part of the process," Rogers said. "We want to be a championship contender, and at the banquet [last year] a lot of our competitors called us the field entertainer, and I took that really personal. I want to be called the winning race team, and to be there, you've got to go through some tough lessons like [Monday]. It's tough to swallow right now, but I guarantee when we go back and think about it Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll learn some lessons that will make us a better race team in the future. It's disappointing, but I know there's a lesson in it somewhere."