BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 20, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch battled to a solid seventh-place finish in today’s Jeff Byrd 500 here at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s fourth top-10 finish in as many races this season has him in sole possession of the points lead.
“It was a good day for us with our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge,” Busch said after the grueling 500-lap battle had been completed. “We were in good position early on, riding around in third and could see the leaders. We pushed our car hard on some of the restarts trying to get up there and lead a lap. It just didn’t seem we had the mojo to compete. Those guys were pretty tough today.
“Overall, we had a solid day,” said Busch. “We couldn’t adjust on the car as the race got past halfway. That seems to be our struggle. We had another top 10 which is great. We’ll take that. It’s a point-leader type effort. We just want to get up there and try to win one of these things. We’ll keep pushing hard.”
Busch started 20th in today’s race and made steady progress toward the front. He cracked the top 15 on the seventh lap and was up to 10th on Lap 43. A competition yellow on Lap 50 here today due to the tire situation saw the Steve Addington-led team go with four new Goodyears and Busch fell back to 13th for the restart.
By Lap 87, the “Double Deuce” Dodge was back in the top 10. He cracked the top five for the first time on Lap 146 and held a top-five position for the next 200 circuits around this .533-mile oval. The track started rubbering in and Busch had fallen to sixth with 100 laps remaining.
He remained a fixture among the top-10 drivers for the remainder of the race except for a brief period when he overshot his pits on a pit stop (on Lap 430 under the seventh caution period of the race) and fell from sixth to 14th for the restart. Only 15 laps later, he was back inside the top 10 and continued to gain ground until the final laps of the race.
Although Busch never led a lap here today, he did run as high as second-place on two occasions. He lined up ninth for the final restart on Lap 464 and clawed his way up to sixth with 15 laps remaining. A three-car battle for fifth was where the action was on the final two circuits. Busch was on the high line and trapped behind Paul Menard, while Kevin Harvick made the low lane work to his favor and nipped Busch at the line for the sixth finishing position.
Kyle Busch came home the winner here today, with a 0.946-second victory over runner-up Carl Edwards. It was his fifth career Cup win here and 20th career victory overall. Jimmie Johnson finished third, with Matt Kenseth fourth and Menard fifth. Harvick edged out Kurt Busch for sixth, with Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounding out today’s top-10 finishers.
“We’ve shown some pretty good consistency so far this season and that’s something our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team is very proud of,” crew chief Addington offered. “If we can keep it up, we’re hopeful that the wins will come our way. It really feels good to come out of Bristol with the points lead, but we realize that we have to get stronger to stay up there running with these guys every week as the season goes on.”
Kurt Busch entered today’s race tied with Tony Stewart for the points lead, but Stewart’s 19th-place finish today saw him fall to third in the standings. After four races have been placed into the 2011 record books, Kurt Busch leads the standings with 150 points. Edwards is second with 149 and Stewart is third with 138. Newman also has 138 and holds down the fourth spot, with Menard in fifth with 136 points.
Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski fought back from going several laps down early here today and brought his Miller Lite “Blue Deuce” Dodge home in the 18th finishing position. His finish today moved him up to 21st in the points (with 89 points).
The Sprint Cup tour now heads out to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for next Sunday’s running of the Auto Club 400 on that 2.0-mile track. This weekend’s Sprint Cup schedule at Auto Club Speedway gets under way with Friday’s practice from 12:00 noon until 1:30 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s battle is set for Friday at 4:10 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV). Saturday’s action begins with morning practice from 11:30 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. The final “happy hour” practice session is scheduled from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (200 laps, 400 miles) has a scheduled 12:00 noon PDT starting time (3:00 p.m. PDT). FOX-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.