Busch Looking to Find Competitive Rhythm at Phoenix

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Daytona

AVONDALE, Ariz. (Feb. 22, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch had just returned to his team transporter on Sunday afternoon after visiting Victory Lane to congratulate longtime friends on the Daytona 500-winning Wood Brothers racing team. Still miffed for making the wrong move on the final lap of Sunday’s edition of the “Great American Race” which he felt cost him a sure win, he was consoled by team owner Roger Penske and Penske Senior Vice President Bud Denker.

Busch, who was going for history on Sunday, attempting to be the first driver to ever sweep all three NASCAR Sprint Cup races during a single Speed Weeks, emerged from the meeting with a smile and a great big-picture perspective.

“I realize that our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team had a tremendous Daytona Speed Weeks and we all are coming out of here with our heads held high,” Busch said back in the drivers’ motorcoach lot after finishing fifth in his 11th attempt at winning the Daytona 500. “Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys were all just incredible the whole time we have been in Daytona. Our Penske Racing Team certainly did their homework during the off-season and it paid big dividends. My hat goes off to everyone in the body shop, to the guys over in the engine department, our engineering group and all the support crew.

“We really wanted to claim that big chunk of racing history, but we came up just a little short,” said Busch, who finally cracked into the winner’s column in restrictor-plate competition but left Daytona still looking for his first points-paying plate race win after 41 career attempts. “Speed Weeks 2011 was huge for us and just a super way of kicking off our relationship with Shell-Pennzoil, Coca-Cola and all the great sponsors we have supporting our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team.

“We’ve had a lot of success and fun at Daytona this time around, but like I told them, ‘the real season starts right now,'” said Busch, who left Daytona fourth in the Sprint Cup points after the first of 36 races has been put into the record books. “It’s kind of like a football team starting off with two wins and a tie going into a new season. We’ve tasted success, but there could have been even more.

“The important thing is that we didn’t leave Daytona in a hole like we have several times before,” said Busch, whose fifth-place finish Sunday upped his overall Daytona career Sprint Cup record to 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 races. “Now we need to get into a good competitive rhythm, build on the momentum and have another great weekend coming up at Phoenix . Then we can head into (Las) Vegas and on to Bristol , Fontana and Martinsville with a full head of steam.”

Busch, Addington and the “Double-Deuce” Dodge Team certainly have started to lay a sound foundation for a solid 2011 season with their Daytona performance. It’s the best start the 2004 series champion has enjoyed since finishing second in the 2008 Daytona 500, a race where he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to the win. His fifth-place finish last Sunday marks only the second time since he joined Penske Racing back in 2006 that he left Daytona in the top-five in the point standings.

“Kurt is right – it’s full steam ahead for our Shell-Pennzoil ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge Team,” said Addington on Monday afternoon. “Daytona was a great two weeks for us, but our focus has turned totally on getting ready for Phoenix this week, Vegas the next and all the races on down the line. What’s really cool is that unlike last year when we tore up a lot of cars at Daytona, we came out of there totally unscathed. We should be in great shape for Talladega and when we head back to Daytona for the July race.

“Yeah, the big-picture situation is already our primary focus now,” said Addington, who has served as Busch’s team leader for only 37 points-paying races now, yet enjoys one of the most solid driver/crew chief relationships in the sport. “We’re testing at Gresham ( Motorsports Park , a half-mile asphalt track near Jefferson , Ga. ) this week and we’re looking to head out to Phoenix and keep the ball rolling. Kurt really loves that track and I do, too.

“We’re excited about starting off the year like we have and look to build on the success week after week,” said Addington. “We have a great group of guys on our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team and -just like Kurt — we are all dedicated to do what it takes to be right there challenging for the championship at the end of the season.”

Busch has visited Victory Lane before at Phoenix as he won the April 2005 race, the first night race on the track when the second event per season there was added to the schedule. Busch’s overall career record at PIR boasts one win, four top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 16 career starts. He has a 13.6 average start and a 13.2 average finish. He has a 99.7% lap completion average (5,045 of 5,062 laps) and has led a total of 660 laps. He has been running at the finish in all 16 races and running on the lead lap in 12 or the races.

“Phoenix will always be a special track for me and it’s almost like a homecoming each and every time we race there,” said Busch who first visited the “Desert Mile” as a 13-year-old fan who later raced on the track in late model competition before speeding through the ranks in NASCAR Racing. “So much has changed at the track through the years, with them building the tunnel into the infield and adding all those thousands of seats. But it’s still the same old PIR as for it being the demanding one-mile flat track that I love racing on and the same old PIR that holds so many special memories for me personally.

Phoenix Sprint Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 12:30 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. till 5:25 p.m. Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field. Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 (312-lap, 312-mile, 500 kilometer) race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.


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Busch Flirts With History, Finishes Fifth in Daytona 500


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch was going for a major piece of racing history in today’s 53rd Annual Daytona 500 here at Daytona International Speedway.  After winning last weekend’s Budweiser Shootout and his 150-mile qualifying race on Thursday, Busch was attempting to be the first driver to ever claim all three NASCAR Sprint Cup winner’s trophies in a single Speed Weeks.  His effort came up just a little short as he finished fifth in today’s edition of the “Great American Race.”

“What a race,” Busch said of his 11th attempt to win NASCAR’s most prestigious race.  “On that last lap, I just needed to stay on the bottom of the track and it just didn’t seem like (Juan Pablo) Montoya could stay together and get enough steam built up on the run.  I was in perfect position to win the race; running third and just made a mistake.  It’s tough.  We came all this way and came up a little shy.

“All in all, it was a great points day for us, though,” said Busch, already taking a look at the big picture.  “We’ll take it.  To have a run at history was something special.  I tried to block it out all day.  We fought through adversity when we knocked a hole in the grille.  For Shell/Pennzoil and Dodge, AAA, Coca-Cola…this was a great day.  Now we can move on to Phoenix and get the real season started.  I’m really happy with this fifth-place finish.  To make a mistake on the last lap, I’m going to be the one that has the sour feeling in my stomach, though.”

Busch took the green flag from the pole position in today’s race, led the first lap and was a contender throughout the 200-lap, 500-mile battle that required an overtime of eight laps or 20 additional miles to determine today’s winner.  Busch went on to lead a total of 19 laps spread out over 10 occasions.

“It was a heart-fought battle all day,” said Busch.  “Every lap seemed like it was something different today.  As the race got down to the end, I thought that I was in perfect position to put this Shell/Pennzoil Dodge car into victory lane.  We just kept battling back with different guys.  I feel horrible for Regan Smith.  Those guys were with us all day.  Tony Stewart came up behind us with a head of steam.  I got on the brakes as hard as I could not to hit the 78; he got the short end of the stick.  For us, finding different guys to work with, I thought I was in perfect position to bring it on home.  I was just one step behind on the last lap. I went to the middle; I needed to be on the low side.  I had Montoya behind me.  Those guys behind just pulled Juan away from my rear bumper and took away the head of steam that we needed.  We finished fifth.  This was a great Speed Weeks.  It’s a great way to start off the season in the Double-Deuce.”

Busch was running third after the incident with Smith brought out the 15th caution flag of the race and set up the first green-white-checkered run to the finish.  At that point, it appeared that Kurt and younger brother, Kyle, would team up and make a run to the finish.  But when Stewart drafted into the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  a bit too hard, it triggered another multi-car crash on Lap 202 and forced a second green-white-checkered finish.  Meanwhile, Kyle Busch had a tire going flat and was forced to hit pit road.

The strategy was for the “Double Deuce Dodge” to hook up with Montoya when the green flag was displayed again and that plan worked all the way down to the final circuit’s run to the checkered flag.  While the 2004 NASCAR Spring Cup Champ was taking it hard on himself immediately after the race, such was not the case of the other Penske team players.

“I think Kurt drove a masterful race today,” said team owner Roger Penske.  “It was just one of those days at the end where we needed the right partner.  With all the green-white-checkered flags (two), you want to be careful because we’re running for the championship.  Two wins (Bud Shootout and Gatorade Duel) and a fifth-place today in the 500, this month at Daytona is a great finish for us.  It’s great for Dodge and Shell-Pennzoil and all of our sponsors.”

“What a stressful day!” said crew chief Steve Addington.   “We got a hole knocked in the grille and fought back to get our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge back up to the front.  Kurt was patient all day long and worked really well with Regan (Smith).  It was a tough deal for him getting spun like he did.  I just want to thank all the guys that lay a hand on this race car.  We had a great month and they worked their tails off to give us race cars down here in Daytona.  It’s a great way to start the season.”

At the finish line here this afternoon, it was 20-year-old Trevor Bayne pulling off a shocking win behind the wheel of the legendary Wood Brothers Ford.  It was a page right out of the history books as the Wood Brothers claimed their fifth win in the 500 here today.  The popular Virginia family-owned team was sporting retro colors for their famous No. 21 car and had Hall-of-Famer and former team driver David Pearson advising the driver and team here today.

“Now that was so cool what happened out there that I just had to go to Victory Lane and congratulate those guys,” said Busch of the win in the race that featured a record number of lead changes (74 among 22 drivers) and a record number of cautions (16 for 60 laps). “The Wood Brothers – all that family – means so much to the history of our sport.  And here’s this 20-year-old kid who puts them back into the winner’s circle in the biggest stock car race in the world.  That’s really incredible and I am so happy for those guys.”

At the finish, it was Carl Edwards pushing winner Bayne across the line and taking the runner-up spot.  David Gilliland finished third, with Bobby Labonte fourth and Busch fifth.  Montoya finished sixth, with Smith, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin rounding out the top-10 finishers.

Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski had his Miller Lite “Blue Deuce” Dodge in contention for the majority of the race until contact from Robby Gordon’s Dodge sent him crashing into the outside wall on Lap 167.  Keselowski had led two times for nine laps during the race, but had to settle for a 29th-place finish.

With Bayne not being a declared full-time Cup competitor, he is not credited with the points lead after the first of 36 2011 points-paying races has officially been placed in the record book.  Edwards is the current leader with 42 points.  Gilliland is tied for second with 41, with Busch fourth (40) and Montoya (39) fifth.  Smith (38) is sixth, with Kyle Busch (37) seventh, Menard (36) eighth, Martin (34) and A.J. Allmendinger (34) tied for ninth.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads out to Phoenix International Raceway for next weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.  The Phoenix Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 12:30 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. till 5:25 p.m.  Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field.  Sunday’s 312-lap, 312-mile (500 kilometer) race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.


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