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It Was One ‘Rowdy’ Weekend In Fort Worth

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 14 2013

Kyle Busch took a bow after wrapping up a nearly perfect visit to Texas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Busch broke out a broom and playfully swept the stone surface of Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, the perfect prop and photo-op for a guy who spent his weekend in Cowtown cleaning house.

Busch used a late-race pit stop to overhaul Martin Truex Jr. for the lead en route to victory in the 17th annual NRA 500, Kyle’s first win at TMS in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Twenty-four hours earlier, Busch cruised to victory over Brad Keselowski in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 – Kyle’s record-setting sixth Nationwide Series win on the high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval.

And now, get down with the guy nicknamed “Rowdy” for obvious reasons.

“This is awesome! It’s such an amazing feeling – I’m jacked-up,” said Busch, whose pit crew helped propel the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry past Truex en route to a margin of victory of 0.508-seconds. “This is cool – we’re in Victory Lane in Texas finally in the Cup Series. Man, if it wasn’t for my pit crew…we had a great race car and we worked really hard all weekend long on this car. But without that pit crew – they’re the best in the business and been the best in the business since I’ve been with them in 2008. They know when it’s crunch time.”

The clock struck crunch during the night’s seventh and final caution, for debris in Turn 2, from Laps 315-318. Truex had taken the lead from Busch on Lap 290 and held it until the Speedway’s elaborate caution lights system flashed. Led by crew chief Dave Rogers, Busch’s team reeled-off a 12-second pit stop that got him out ahead of Truex, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. When the green flag fell for the restart, that one-through-five

Kyle Busch wins Saturday night's Sprint Cup race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

running order did not change to the checkered flag.

Truex, whose lone Cup win was scored at Dover International Speedway on June 4, 2007, was emotionally drained post-race as his winless streak stretched to 210 consecutive races.

“When they say second sucks – second sure sucked tonight,” said Truex, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. “We had a great race car. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and the guys did a great job with the car, getting it where we needed it. We were a third or fourth-place car there for a long time. Just kept working on it. Got it to where we were the best car on the racetrack.”

Truex had failed to lead a lap in any of the season’s first six races. Saturday night, he led five times for 142 of the 334 laps – second only to the 171 laps-led by Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing hot rod.

“Just got beat out of the pits at the end,” Truex said. “Once that happens, obviously, the outside on the restarts is not where you want to be. I was lucky to hold second. Carl about got me. Just frustrating. We needed more time. We needed another stop. We needed something. Just tired of finishing second.”

During post-race inspection, NASCAR officials announced that the front end of Truex’s car was found to be too low, a situation the sanctioning body will address early next week.

Busch said he understood Truex’s frustration on a night when Martin basically matched Kyle’s relentless pace that produced a winning average speed of 144.751 mph.

“(Truex) was really fast here last year, and those guys have really worked hard at MWR on their mile-and-a-half program,” said Busch, who posted his 26th career Cup victory in his 300th start. “It was great to race with Martin. It was great to battle with him there and race hard. I felt like our car was a little bit better than his if I could get to the clean air. Because any time we restarted, it seemed like I could stay with him and even run up on him a little bit. But I’d start slipping and heating up my tires and I’d start fading backwards.

“It seemed like when I restarted and got out front, I just checked out. He couldn’t even keep pace with me. So I felt like we had a stronger car in that respect. It was just a little bit difficult to pass because we were going so fast around this racetrack. You’re using the bottom lane because there is so much throttle-on time that you don’t venture off the bottom for a few laps because it’s so fast around the bottom. So it was good racing with him, and cool to see the Toyotas running up-front like that.”

Edwards’ third-place finish masked a series of struggles for the only three-time Cup race-winner at TMS. “Early in the race the car was good, the sun was still out and then it got really bad,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. “I almost pulled in because I was so loose that I thought it might be better just to pull in and lose a lap or two to get it fixed. Fortunately, we stayed out and stayed on the lead lap. And then the tail pipe, something broke or cracked in the tail pipes and I thought the engine was blowing up. The whole race, that got worse.

“On one of the restarts I tightened my belts and I unhooked my whole seat belt system coming to the green. I hadn’t had that happen since I was running my dirt car. I told them out there I don’t know what the state laws are or whatever, but I went ahead and hooked them back up. But that was pretty crazy.”

Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished sixth, a best-in-class result for the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS. He was followed by Aric Almirola, Brian Vickers (in place of the injured Denny Hamlin), reigning series champion Keselowski and Ryan Newman.

Johnson, who began the day with a six-point championship lead over Keselowski, exited Texas with a nine-point (269-260) advantage after Race No. 7. Busch is third, 18 points behind Johnson.

The top-10 finishes for the Penske Racing Fords of Logano (fifth) and Keselowski (ninth) were remarkable, given the scrambled start to their days. NASCAR confiscated the rear-end housings of both Fusions, forcing the teams to make a change before the race. Keselowski made it to the grid in time to hold his No. 16 starting spot, but Logano’s car was late presenting itself on pit road and had to start from the rear. Logano had qualified 18th on Friday.

“It was one of the toughest races I think we’ve ever dealt with,” said Logano, referring to himself and crew chief Todd Gordon. “And to come home with a top-five out of something like that, we couldn’t be more excited about that. It was almost a third-place finish there if the last caution had (not) come out, but these guys worked really hard on getting us out at least to race.”

Logano said he tried to take the pre-race histrionics in-stride, in typical Penske fashion.

“I go minute-by-minute, so for me, it’s not a big deal,” Logano said. “I just strap-in and go. Having to go to the rear was a little bit of a bummer, especially not knowing what your car is going to be like. But Todd Gordon and all these guys, they knew exactly what to do to get us out there – barely in time – but to get us out there, make some laps, get a feel for it, good adjustments – we kept up with the racetrack when the sun went down – and then we started to shine there late.”

The outspoken Keselowski initially tried to contain his disgust about the perceived garage area politics, but let loose post-race.

“I don’t have a lot of good things to say right now,” Keselowski said during a media scrum. “I take that back. I have one good thing to say and that was my team and the effort they put in today in fighting back with the absolute (expletive) that’s been the last seven days in this garage area. The things I’ve seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything that I believe in, and I’m not happy about it.

“There’s so much stuff going on you guys (media) have no idea. You have no (expletive ) idea of what’s going on. And that’s not your fault and it’s not a slam on you. But I can tell you that there’s no team in this garage with the integrity of the (No.) 2 team. And the way we’ve been treated over the last seven days is absolutely shameful. I feel like we’ve been targeted over the last seven days more than I’ve ever seen a team targeted in my life. But my guys, they keep their heads on straight and they showcased why they’re a winning team and a championship team, and we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to be treated this way.”

Those comments also likely will be addressed by NASCAR officials later this week in the form of a monetary fine. In addition, NASCAR officials announced post-race that the cars of Keselowski and Kyle Busch would be taken to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C., for further inspection, along with the engine in Truex’s car, already under scrutiny for its lower-than-allowed front end.

Busch, meanwhile, basked in the glory of his seventh Nationwide/Cup weekend sweep, a NASCAR record. He is the first driver to win in all three NASCAR national touring series at TMS and the first to sweep both April events here. Busch’s 26th victory moved him into a tie for 23rd on the all-time series list with NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Fred Lorenzen.

Recall that Busch began the weekend by capturing the Coors Light Pole for this event – the competitive debut here of NASCAR’s Gen-6 Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford – with a track-record qualifying lap at 196.299 mph on Friday.

“This is my 300th start,” Busch reiterated. “So not a bad way to celebrate it, of course, sitting on the pole with a new track record and going to Victory Lane.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 14 2013
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