Kurt Busch, Burton Win The Gatorade150 Qualifiers
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The story of Speedweeks 2011 continued to be two-car drafts as the winners of both of Thursday’s twin Gatorade 150-mile qualifying races needed more than just a little help from new best buddies to get those wins.
In the first qualifying race, Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch got the victory thanks to his partnering up with Regan Smith of Furniture Row Racing.
The second 150 was won by Jeff Burton, who was pushed to the checkered flag by Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer.
Smith, who was pushing Busch for most of the race and still pushing out of the final turn, attempted a move for the win near the finish line but could not get past Busch.
“Regan Smith, thanks to him,” Busch said.
Same deal in the second race as Bowyer pulled along side in an attempt to sneak past Burton at the finish line but couldn’t quite make it.
“I didn’t know who won,” Burton said. That’s how close it was.
The two 150s set the final starting field for Sunday’s Daytona 500, and the starting order.
“We have to keep in perspective that this is not the Daytona 500, it’s great to be in Victory Lane, real proud of that,” Burton said. “Last year obviously was very influencing toward the end of the year. Kept ourselves in position to win races but never made it happen. Put ourselves in position, I thought we were in great shape to win the other night, but to win tonight means a great deal. That’s what drove us nuts last year. It’s good to get that off our back and prove to ourselves we can do it. Looking forward to this year.
“I think obviously the Daytona 500 is the first hurdle. There’s the Daytona 500, a championship, two biggest things on my list I want to get done. Hopefully we’re just one step closer to that.”
Michael Waltrip drove his way into his 25th-straight 500 by finishing third in the second race. Kyle Busch was fourth.
“A quarter of a century of running this race – I don’t take that lightly,” Waltrip said. “I never took for granted running one of them let alone 25 of them. It’s quite an honor to not only be in it, but it looks like we can be a part of the show. The car was really fast and it handled great. The end went really well. I feel good about our car – I really do. And we’ve got more power coming – that’s a great feeling
Brian Keselowski, the older brother of Brad Keselowski, also drove his way into Sunday’s show by finishing fifth in 150 No. 2. The two brothers worked in tandem for much of the race. Brian was driving a car owned by his and Brad’s father, Bob Keselowski.
Also driving his way into the 500 in the second race Thursday was Travis Kvapil.
“It feels great,” Kvapil said.” This team, last fall, we missed Talladega, getting in on speed. We worked really hard in the winter getting some better equipment and got the new FR9 Ford engine. (Team owner) Bob Jenkins and everybody have made good investments over the winter time to get us better equipment. It paid off for us. It is great for our team. Our three cars are locked in the field, so we are really proud of that. This is my first time doing the two-car stuff in competition. We practiced it, but in practice it’s different. It is a craft. It takes a little bit of time to figure that out and what you can and can’t do. I feel pretty pumped. It is cool.”
Dave Blaney of Tommy Baldwin Racing also gets a spot in the 500.
Kurt Busch’s victory was his second of Speedweeks as he won the Bud Shooutout last weekend with his new No. 22 Dodge.
“It’s the double deuce power right now,” Busch said. “Great ride through these Speedweeks, being in the right place at the right time. To be in those positions, you have to have a good drafting partner. I had that with Regan Smith today, had it with (Jamie) McMurray on Saturday night. You can’t be in those positions if you don’t build a great race car.
“I can’t get too far ahead of myself because this is Daytona and this place can jump up and bite you pretty quick. But we are going to ride this wave. We’ve made the right decisions so far with all of our adjustments on our car, adapting to the rule changes with restrictor plate sizes, grill opening sizes. This is a new era at Daytona in my mind. Right now, I feel like I don’t know anything about the draft. I’m trying to latch myself onto somebody to learn with. I’ve had a great teammate with Brad Keselowski in testing to do that with. We’re going to keep going. It’s bright, it’s yellow, it’s fast.”
Kevin Harvick finished third in the first 150 and his day-long drafting partner, Matt Kenseth, was fourth. Harvick led a race-best 20 laps and Kenseth 13.
“It was just a matter of timing there,” Kenseth said. “We tried to make plans before the race and I was gonna kind of hook up with Kurt and it didn’t work out, so I got with Kevin and obviously Kevin is very good at this. He’s won a ton of races, and after we got hooked together I just committed to stay with him the whole race no matter what.
“My guys in the pits on the Crown Royal team did a good job and got me in front of him, so I was committed to staying in front of him and somebody got a run and got him out of line and stalled him right at the wrong time and we lost momentum. But, overall, it was a good race and I think I learned a little bit. It was nice to be in front of most of it.”
Kasey Kahne finished fifth and his day-long partner, Juan Pablo Montoya was sixth.
Driving his way into the 500 in the first 150 was J.J. Yeley, who finished 17th.
“This is huge,” Yeley said. “I wouldn’t be standing here without Marcos Ambrose. He stuck with me (as a drafting partner) the entire race.”
A.J. Allmendinger finished seventh in the first duel but used alternating drafting partners.
“That was nuts,” Allmendinger said. “It is very interesting. I wouldn’t say I like it, it is tough. It is all strategy. You get someone that you hook up with and that is cool. Everybody is trying to learn out there together. I felt like you have to be pin point with everything.”
The front row for the 500 is traditionally set during pole day, the 2011 version of which was held last Sunday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole and Jeff Gordon earned the outside-pole spot.
But during practice on Wednesday, Earnhardt Jr. crashed and was forced to a backup car for the rest of Speedweeks. That cost him the pole and he will start the 500 from the rear of the field.
Earnhardt will retain choice of pit stalls. He finished 13th in the first qualifying race, one spot behind his drafting partner, Tony Stewart.
Gordon crashed his car in the second of Thursday’s races. The crash came in the final turn of the final lap as Gordon and young Trevor Bayne, who had teamed with Gordon thought the entire race, got loose.
Gordon’s car was only slightly damaged and will be repaired so he will keep his front-row starting position in the 500.
(This story will be updated shortly)One Comment