News & Media

Tough start ruins Busch's day at at New Hampshire

September 26, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Being late to pre-race inspection angers NASCAR; car's balance off from get-go

LOUDON, N.H. -- Kurt Busch's record of late at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been stellar, so that made a whirlwind of a Sunday that much more difficult to swallow for the driver who plummeted from Chase for the Sprint Cup contention to an also-ran in the space of 300 miles.

Busch struggled to finish 22nd in a race that turned into the latest fuel-mileage crapshoot. And in the process he fell from fourth in the championship, 11 points behind the lead, to ninth, 28 points behind leader and Sylvania 300 race winner Tony Stewart.

"We've been a little bit slow in getting on line and we've got to step that up."


Busch returned to his hauler, changed clothes and left without speaking, but relayed a few comments through a representative. Nearly half an hour later crew chief Steve Addington confirmed the somber mood when he and his driver briefly met post-race.

"We were both frustrated with how we ran here," Addington said. "We usually run pretty good here and we were frustrated with how we ran."

Busch, who has three wins at NHMS, including one with the current new car, and six top-10 finishes in his past seven starts here, with a worst of 13th, had high hopes for the second race in the Chase.

Busch, Addington, car owner Roger Penske and the No. 22 Dodge crew's day of woe began shortly after the garage opened, when Addington threw some changes at the car that hadn't practiced particularly well -- Busch had a best of 17th on Saturday morning, and the ninth-best 10-lap average -- but qualified fifth.

The car was pushed to pre-race inspection at the last minute, and apparently when NASCAR's inspection crew found a minimal irregularity in a rear-end measurement, it was the last straw. Addington said the adjustment to bring the car into spec took "a half-turn on the track bar and it passed, just fine," but then NASCAR held the car off the grid until about 10 minutes before the cars rolled off pit road.

* Video: No. 22 car fails pre-race inspection

"What [Sprint Cup director] John Darby and [NASCAR president] Mike Helton said to me was, 'Look, we want you at the front of that [inspection] line for the rest of the season, and that's the end of it,' " Penske said after the race. "I think the problem was the last two or three weeks we'd been late getting through tech and then if we had a little bit of a problem we had to go back through again -- and they said, 'We've had enough of you going back through.'

"It wasn't anything big -- just little things -- because we've had all of our cars to NASCAR after the wins and there were no issues with the car."

"We're in a box of having a half-inch of offset -- you've got your numbers to be offset with the rear-end housing," Addington said. "And we were a 16th [of an inch] too far to the right, a 32nd of an inch per side. We had to just lengthen the track bar [to adjust it], that was all."

The end of the day's frustration for Penske Racing mirrored what Addington said NASCAR was feeling just after noon.

"It was a little frustration from where we struggled with getting through for qualifying at Richmond and some other issues that popped up that [NASCAR] was frustrated with us having to come back around," Addington said. "So that's where that came from and I totally understand John Darby and Mike Helton's decision on that and that had nothing to do with our performance [Sunday]. I stand behind them and I understand that [frustration].

"I'm there on the scales with my guys and with [the inspectors] 90 percent of the time pre-race. We've been a little bit slow in getting on line and we've got to step that up."

Not surprisingly, Penske also said enough was enough.

"I'm going to sit down with Addington and the guys during the week and say, 'Look, we've got to have our car in inspection prior to qualifying and also prior to the race on time and not have this happen again,' " Penske said. "It's embarrassing, obviously and these guys [NASCAR inspectors] can make it tough on you -- they can hurt you if they want to. But I think they gave us a break, we'll talk to the crew and they're gonna have to get their game up a little bit."

Penske and Addington agreed the inspection delay had nothing to do with the car's performance.

"We made some changes to the car [Sunday] morning and we thought we went in the right direction," Addington said. "But you don't have to be off but a tenth or two-tenths [of a second] at a place like this to make it really bad. So we just missed on what we changed overnight."

Even Sunday's weather, with sunshine and temperatures in the 80s where the previous two days had been overcast and much cooler, had nothing to do with the car's performance, according to Addington. Busch started fifth but fell out of the top 10 before 30 laps were run.

"I just think that when we started off we didn't have the balance of the car where we needed to be at the start of the race and we lost track position," Addington said. "And then it's so hard to get it back, and we were off again so we had to make a big swing at it and make a big change there."

With less than 40 laps to go, Busch came on his in-car radio and said, "We're money right now -- wish we could've had it earlier." Addington agreed with that sentiment, a good bit later.

"We felt like we made some gains on the car right then," Addington said. "And then it just played out and we were trying to play track position, and stay out when everybody still had to come to pit road and trying to catch a caution."

Busch played the strategy game well enough to lead from Lap 242 to 245 in a pit cycle, gaining a critical bonus point. But the prayed-for caution never came.

"They mentioned debris two or three times," Addington said. "And we were hoping it would work out for us, to try to get our track position back, and it didn't. But we needed to make changes on the car, to make a difference. When you're really good, you like these short races, but when you're really bad you'd like it to run all night long like the [Coca-Cola] 600 at Charlotte.

"But it is what it is -- as a race team we weren't where we needed to be and that's disappointing."

"It was a frustrating day, our Shell Pennzoil Dodge was certainly a handful," Busch said. "The front tires felt like they were on skids and the car was plowing through the corners. Addington and the guys kept making changes and got our Dodge better by the end of the race. I just wish we could have started the race with the car that good."

Strangely enough, Addington said both Busch and teammate Brad Keselowski's car, which finished second, had the same setups to start. Track position ended up being the key, as Keselowski got his car where it needed to be so crew chief Paul Wolfe could play strategy to get the critical position.

"These things are so close that a little bit here and a little bit there makes a difference," Penske said. "Overall I think we had a pretty good day. It was unfortunate where Kurt finished but we had a good finish with the 2 [Keselowski] and at the end of the day, we'll just go on to Dover. Anything can happen -- we've got Talladega, we've got a number of things. This is two [races] out of 10 and I'll keep going."

"We've got to do our job," Addington said of the points deficit. "Like I've always said, we've got to do our job -- we can't control what everybody else does -- and we just didn't do a good job of doing our job [Sunday]."