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Wall, All-Star Field Can’t Slow Down Kurt Busch

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 22 2010

Kurt Busch celebrates his first victory in the Sprint All-Star Race. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Just when you thought it was safe to write off polesitter Kurt Busch after a couple of encounters with the wall in the Sprint All-Star race, he came storming back to take the checkered flag and the million dollar payday.

“It’s an unbelievable experience,” Busch said. “It’s something that you sit there and you look at the greats that have won this race, the ones that have had so many years go by in between the wins, just to have an opportunity to go for it tonight” was a treat.

Busch appeared to have the dominant car early on, but his rim-riding saw him slip into the outside wall twice and drop out of the top five as Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin emerged as the top contenders.

But Busch’s crew patched up his No. 2 Dodge, changed a couple of shocks and sent him out 11th for the final 10-lap dash for the cash.  Hamlin faded, Kyle Busch crashed after a questionable encounter with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin, then Johnson spun, leaving only Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano to challenge Busch over the final few laps.

The Hamlin-Kyle Busch carried over into the garages. Busch drove his car to Hamlin’s hauler looking for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.

Of the incident, Hamlin said, “First he (Kyle Busch) got a big run off the corner and I was clear getting into the corner. Basically I just throttled up extremely early and really it was a bad corner. He was going to go by me. He kind of went to the bottom and then went up high it looked like. Of course, I’m looking out my front windshield and he says I’m clear so I’m going to use all the race track I can. The problem is that Kyle had a run to the outside and with me moving up and getting real tight, it then took some air away from the front of his car and he slid up into the wall. It’s tough for me.

“We talked about it and basically Kyle was just frustrated, he felt like he had a really good car. Me, I just came from the back with no practice and got back to the front where we needed to be and I felt like if I gave up the lead right there then I was going to give up the win. I don’t think Kyle would do anything different if he was in my situation. It’s just when you’re the leader, my feeling is that you’ve got the whole race track. If a guy is to the outside then that’s when you need to hold your line.”

Over the radio, Busch had taken some heavy verbal shots at Hamlin. Of those, Hamlin said, “That’s Kyle in the moment and he’s said worse things about me for sure at other times.”

Both drivers met with JGR president J.D. Gibbs after the race.

“It’s a good conversation to have,” Hamlin said. “Me and Tony (Stewart) has had this same conversation and it was under a little different circumstance, but this is a good problem to have for our team. For two guys to be wanting to go for the win like they are, that’s all we can ask for. Myself, I’m so confident that one of the two of us are going to win that 600 next weekend, it was a good meeting. Kyle (Busch) was fiery at the beginning, but calmed right down at the end. I think it’s just kind of his personality and me, I’m a little more reserved and kind of quiet about it. I think it’s just two teammates that happen to be teammates going for a race win right there.”

Nobody had anything for Kurt Busch in a trio of late-race restart and Busch sped away to his first-ever win in a NASCAR special, non-points-paying event.  “We had a rough third segment,” Busch said of his wall-banging experiences. “But we took a deep breath, changed two front shocks and it was a rocket ship at the end.”

Said crew chief Steve Addington of contact with the wall, “It just scraped the side. The tow was the same as what we set it before the race. We didn’t feel like it was hurt that bad. We got it pulled back out, clear tires, went on.”

Busch’s performance also made a late-day trip from Indianapolis well worth it for his car owner Roger Penske, who earlier in the day saw one of his IndyCars take the pole for the Indianapolis 500.  Truex, who won the Sprint Showdown to advance to the main event, finished second over Logano, Hamlin and Tony Stewart, who made a late-race charge after being a non-factor for most of the race.

“The Miller Lite Dodge was money when it counted,” Busch said. “We really had a fast racecar. It was a pleasure to drive it. The segment before that, though, I wouldn’t have given a million bucks for it. Now it has a million dollar name to it. The right side, we have to replace it. We’ll think about bringing this car back for next week. I know we have a better piece for next week ready to go for the 600. I’m proud of our effort tonight as a team, as my crew chief and I continue to develop our relationship.”

Johnson’s spin was a bit puzzling and continues his streak of bad fortune.

“I was pinned down on the inside on that final restart,” Johnson explained. “Really, the restart before that when we were leading and came off pit road third. Man, being at the head of the pack was so important and especially the outside lane for the first lap or two. I didn’t have that luxury; I was pinned on the inside and still had a great car. I just couldn’t get going on those first two laps kind of. Then that last time, knew we were coming to the white. Knew I had to clear the No. 11 on the outside of me so I just kept my foot in it and I could feel them outside of me kind of pulling the back end of my car around but I said the hell with it, it’s the All Star race. Kept my foot to the floor and hoped that I made it off the turn and I didn’t. It turned around on me.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 22 2010
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