Atlanta Wrap Up: Busch Thrills, Feud Sends Chills
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
Hampton, Ga. – Things got upside down and sideways in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta before Kurt Busch finally won a race extended 16 laps by two green-white-checkered finishes.
Brad Keselowski got turned upside down by a payback from Carl Edwards with two laps left in regulation time and then the entire field got jumbled by two-tire changes and a seven-car crash in the first attempt at a green-white checkered finish.
When the wreckage cleared, the Dodge of Busch easily pulled away from Juan Pablo Montoya in the second overtime to give Penske Racing its second straight victory in Atlanta’s spring race.
“I felt like we won the race outright today,” said Busch, who led six times for 129 laps to score his first victory with new Crew Chief Steve Addington. “There’s no doubt we did the job on the pit road, no doubt we did the job on the long runs and we were well set up for the re-starts. That’s what I’m most proud of.
“You have to adjust to whatever the circumstances are to win these races,” continued Busch, who took the first overtime re-start in fourth place on four fresh tires after leading the final 37 laps in the regulation. To get back to the front, Busch dove to the inside of Clint Bowyer, who had taken two tires, and dashed to the front after Paul Menard spun his tires on the inside groove.
“We just split the middle, held it wide open and cleared those guys,” said Busch.
It was a day of might-have-beens that lasted 24 miles longer than the regulation distance, including a valiant charge by Keselowski up to as high as fifth place before Edwards, who had returned to the track after an incident with the Penske driver on lap 41 when he turned right into the rear of the first-year driver’s Dodge.
Edwards said he was surprised the Penske Dodge flipped, but was unclear if he thought he was justified in hitting Keselowski. NASCAR parked his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, which was over 150 laps down and called him to the trailer for a post-race conference. “Brad knows the deal between him and I,” said Edwards. “The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected. At the end of the day, we’re out here to race and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of respect for people’s safety.”
The two drivers collided at the finish of last spring’s race at Talladega, where Edwards’ Ford flew into the fence and the rookie driver won. In Atlanta, Edwards moved down a groove in Turn 1 and encountered Keselowski’s Dodge. The latter driver held the yellow line at the bottom of the track, but tipped Edwards’ rear enough to send it into the wall and the garage for repairs after 41 laps.
“He cut down one me on a re-start and I couldn’t lift fast enough for him,” said Keselowski, who walked away from his heavily damaged car without injury. “I lifted for him to let him in, but I was there. I don’t know what more you can do.”
The Penske driver suggested penalties by NASCAR were in order. “To come back out and intentionally wreck someone that’s not cool,” he said. “If they (NASCAR) allow drivers to continue to wreck each other at tracks this fast we will hurt someone in the cars or in the grandstands.”
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, acknowledged “There seems to be a history between those two drivers.” But he declined to confirm any action by NASCAR and said the incident would be reviewed internally early in the week. “We don’t rush to judgement on Sunday nights and make penalties,” he said.
Another might-have-been belonged to Montoya, who came very close to his first win on a NASCAR oval. His Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy almost caught Busch before the Keselowski incident, which occurred two laps from the regulation finish.
“If we got anywhere close to him,” said Montoya, who led once for three laps, “I thought we could get him.”
“We were struggling with our right rear tire,” said Busch of Montoya’s chase, which reduced his lead by two tenths of a second per lap. “But even if he had gotten outside me coming to the checkered flag, there’s no way he would have gotten by the Miller Lite Dodge.”
On the second re-start, Montoya spun his rear tires and Busch motored away. “I’m not saying he didn’t deserve to win the race,” said Montoya, who was puzzled by Busch’s quick getaway from the inside lane according to NASCAR’s re-start rules. “I was on the outside and if (Busch) can hold it wide open into Turns 1 and 2 down on the bottom, flat out, you’re done.”
“NASCAR has a re-start zone and that’s where we were,” said Busch, who said his team had given him a car capable to getting a good launch. “When you get a good start, sometimes the driver in second panics, spins his tires and doesn’t get the traction he wants.”
Kasey Kahne, whose dive under Jamie McMurray to the apron in Turn 3 in the first green-white-checkered precipitated the multi-car crash, wound up fourth after leading seven times for 110 laps. Like Busch and Montoya, he took four tires after the Keselowski incident, which left the race’s three dominant cars in fourth, fifth and eighth for the first attempt at overtime.
Kahne, who bounced back from a slow start in the season’s first three races, fell back on a pit stop on lap 80 due to a problem with the right rear, then took 95 laps to return to the front. But his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford faded on the final long run of green in regulation when the handling got tight. “We had a set of tires that didn’t work well for us,” said crew chief Kenny Francis. “I’m not sure why.”
Kahne felt like his team got behind in the chase to keep up with the track as the slightly overcast and cool day got cooler. “The track changed quite a bit the last 50 laps,” he said, “and we just didn’t keep up quite like we needed to to win the race. I thought we had a third or fourth-place car at that time and that is where we finished, so it all worked out fine.”
The where-did-you-come-from award went to Matt Kenseth, whose Roush Racing Ford came back to second after taking four tires and falling to ninth on his last stop prior to the overtime.
“Every time the handling is different when you take two tires or four tires,” said Kenseth. “You could bet we weren’t going to get through that first green-white-checkered.”
Tires were a sore subject for some teams and drivers during the race. But Stu Grant, the director of Goodyear’s racing division, said there were three separate incidents with punctures on the cars of Robby Gordon, Mark Martin and Bowyer. He attributed abnormal wear on the tires of drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart to their choice of chassis set-ups. “If the car is set up right, the tire wear is fine,” he said.
All of the Hendrick group’s chassis – including the two Chevrolets of Stewart Haas Racing, experienced problems with tires at some stages, often pitting early. “Goodyear’s got some work to do,” said Ryan Newman, driver of one of the Stewart-Haas Impalas. “It’s a safety situation. We popped one. There are a lot of guys who popped one. It was too sensitive for the guys who didn’t get it right.”
Pole starter Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a vibration problem that brought him in for the first of two unscheduled stops on lap 112 of the 341 run. His Hendrick Motorsports team discounted an axle problem such as the race in California. The tires were fully inflated, meaning the problem was not a tire issue.
“I should have just stayed out there and waited for (the wheel) to come off,” said Earnhardt Jr., who finished 15th and failed to lead a lap.
The crew chiefs for Kahne and Busch, who led a total of 273 laps, said they did not experience any serious tire problems with the sets of Goodyears that came off their cars, although Busch blistered one Goodyear due to a loose set-up.
For Addington, fired last year as crew chief of the No. 18 of the Joe Gibbs Racing team despite leading Kyle Busch to 12 victories in two seasons, the return to victory lane in Atlanta with Kurt Busch and the Penske team was a vindication. “If I denied that I’d by lying,” said Addington, who won with the younger Busch in Atlanta in 2008, their first victory together. “It feels good to win again at this race track and come back and win (this season) before the 18 car.”
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments