2004 Sprint Cup Champ Overcomes Late-Race Incident to Finish 15th
Kurt Busch earned a hard-fought 15th-place finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Busch, the driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet, masterfully managed his fuel mileage and overcame a late-race incident to move up eight positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship point standings with his strong result.
“That was a nice run for us,” said Busch, who won at Phoenix in April 2005. “The track was a little warm here today. Our bodies haven’t been in the heat yet this year. We were working with our brakes and everything. But it was a good run for our Phoenix Chevrolet. We have to give thanks to our three buddies we have hanging out with us in Monster Energy, TAG Heuer and HendrickCars.com.”
After starting the race 19th, Busch settled into 22nd while trying to negotiate a car that was handling loose entering and exiting turns but tight in the center of turns. The first caution waved on lap 17, and the team took advantage of the opportunity to pit, changing four tires, adjusting air pressure and wedge while adding fuel to the No. 51 Chevrolet. Busch was in 30th place when racing resumed on lap 21 and started charging his way through the field. Steady progress saw the No. 51 Chevrolet move into the top 25 on lap 22 and the top 20 on lap 35. Busch was in 18th when the second caution was displayed on lap 60 for debris.
Because the team already had stopped for four tires during the first stop, it elected to complete only a two-tire stop to try and gain track position. After changing left-side tires, Busch returned to the track in second place. When racing resumed on lap 65, Busch battled leader Jimmie Johnson and took over the top spot for laps 65-66. Busch reported that the handling on the No. 51 Chevrolet was “bad loose” and lost a few positions as green-flag racing continued. He finally settled in at eighth place, where he was running when the third caution flag of the race waved on lap 112.
The team changed four tires, once again adjusting the air pressure. Busch was in ninth place when racing resumed, but the handling on the car became tight. He lost a handful of positions during the course of the next fuel run.
Busch was 17th when the fifth caution flag waved on lap 229. With less than 85 laps to go in the race, fuel mileage started being discussed up and down pit road. The No. 51 Chevrolet team made a four-tire stop during the caution, also opening the brakes and adjusting the air pressure. With less than half the starting field on the lead lap, the team elected to come down pit road to top off the fuel with one lap remaining in the caution period. Busch was in 19th place – and in full fuel-conservation mode — when green-flag racing resumed on lap 234.
Caution would be displayed only 14 laps later when fluid on the track forced NASCAR to slow the field, giving a number of teams the opportunity to pit for fuel. The No. 51 Chevrolet team stayed on the track and moved up to 12th place for the restart on lap 254. Busch moved back into the top-10 and was in a tight battle with Joey Logano as the field circled the track to complete lap 270. As they entered turn one, Logano clipped Busch in the left rear, forcing Busch to lift the throttle and straighten the car. Busch fell to 21st place but was able to overcome the setback and find a groove that allowed him to pick off positions as the laps wound down.
Busch quickly moved back into the top 20 and was in 17th place with two laps to go when a handful of cars at the front of the field started peeling off the track as they ran out of fuel. Having managed his fuel well, Busch was in 15th when the checkered flag waved.
Denny Hamlin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500k to score his 18th career Sprint Cup victory and his first at Phoenix. The win was his seventh top-10 finish in 14 races at the 1-mile oval.
Hamlin finished 7.315 seconds ahead of runner-up Kevin Harvick, while Greg Biffle, Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 37 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 312-lap race.
With round two of 36 complete, Busch sits 26th in the championship point standings, 54 points out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday, March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.