Chip Ganassi may have gotten the best of Roger Penske at Indianapolis, but thanks to a stout racecar, a fast pit stop at the end and a determined driver behind the wheel, it was Kurt Busch who was celebrating in Charlotte’s victory lane in a Penske car. Last week’s winner of the Sprint All-Star Race, Busch became only the seventh driver to accomplish the feat of winning both the All-Star event and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year – joining Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
“It’s just a dream weekend that we’ve had starting last Saturday night,” Busch said. “It even started on Friday night with us getting the pole with that rain out. We almost dug out a clean sweep with the pole, just 0.004 short. All of it’s due to the teamwork.”
After last weekend’s win in the all-star event, Busch knew if they simply brought the same set-up and worked around that throughout the weekend they would be alright.
“To have a car to run that well last Saturday night on the short runs and to have a car today to make the long runs was awesome,” Busch said. “This team deserves it. It’s a special feat to win the All-Star Race and the 600. It’s just a fantastic day for all of our employees, all of our associates and Miller Lite of course and for Dodge. With this Dodge program, we’re going strong.”
Leading 252 of the 400 laps, Busch dominated much of the early stages of the 600-mile event, but had to hold off a hard-charging Jamie McMurray in the final stages of the race. Trying to give Ganassi an unprecedented Indy-Charlotte sweep, McMurray came to life when the sun when down.
Starting in the 27th spot, McMurray quickly made his way through the field from the initial drop of the green flag. Working the high line and the low line, McMurray moved into the top 15 in 15 laps and was in the top 10 by lap 73.
Clicking off strong lap times as he worked through the top-10, McMurray said over the radio, “I feel like Jimmie Johnson out here right now.” Crew chief Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion responded telling his driver, “You better feel like him, you’re a tenth faster than him.”
At the time Johnson was leading and working hard to hold off both Kurt and Kyle Busch. Following a round of green-flag pit stops around lap 150, the entire complexion of the race changed in just a matter of laps.
Kyle Busch had emerged from the stops with nearly a six-and-a-half second lead over his brother. Johnson was fighting a loose racecar and as he exited the fourth turn on lap 167 he caught the wall. As the No. 48 ricocheted off the wall, Denny Hamlin was forced to dip his left sides on the grass. The car bounced back onto the asphalt and damaged the splitter brace on the left front.
As two of the stronger cars went to work making repairs, the rest of the field headed to pit road. Leading the field in for service, Kyle Busch barely avoided contact with AJ Allmendinger – who was entering his stall. Able to drive away unscathed, Busch drove hard into the side of Brad Keselowski, who was also making his way to his pit stall.
The damage knocked the tow out and forced Busch to give up the lead and once again overcome adversity.
“Tore up the car pretty bad,” Busch said. “We had a lot of body damage. It hurt the tow. I don’t think the tow was ever right. I had to move my wheel one click on the spokes. We got that kind of repaired. I don’t know how great it looked, but we got that going. The handling of the car was really off after that. We were trying to fight through the rest of the night, see what we could get.”
With some of his biggest competition now out of contention, Kurt Busch put the No. 2 Dodge back out front and put on a clinic.
Following a restart on lap 277, McMurray radioed crew chief Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion saying, “You can radio up to the [No.] 2 car and tell him I’ll be up there in a second.”
Once the No. 2 car began to overheat, McMurray was able to take the lead from Busch. To clean his grill, Busch allowed the No. 1 car past on lap 299. When Robby Gordon brought out the sixth caution of the day, the field headed to pit road for service. Busch and his Steve Addington-led crew were able to beat McMurray off pit road to retake the lead – something that would play dividends later in the evening.
Retaking the lead on lap 340, McMurray began to pull away from his biggest competition as the final round of stops approached. The Manion-led crew was able to keep McMurray out front following the fourth round of green-flag stops with less than 50 laps to go, but when Marcos Ambrose brought out the eighth and final caution of the day it was back on the pit crews.
With the leaders taking two tires, Busch and Kenseth were able to beat McMurray off in what would be the last pit stop of the day. Under that caution Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman opted to gamble and stay out. Never a factor throughout the race, Busch and McMurray made quick work of them when the race restarted with 19 laps to go.
On the short run, Busch’s car was the best, but after about 20 laps or so the No. 1 would really come to life. Unfortunately for McMurray, Busch was able to use what he learned in the final segment of last weekend’s All-Star Race to power ahead over those final laps. With a stable lead of nearly a second, Busch captured his second win of the 2010 season, the first Coca-Cola 600 win for Penske Racing and second at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in as many weeks.
“McMurray kept us honest,” Busch said. “He was right there at the end. It wasn’t like we faded back into the pack; he just separated himself from the pack to come and get us. He taught me a couple things about my line. I needed to adjust it. It helped us stay out in front of him at the end.”
When the caution flew for that final time on lap 378, Addington knew the race would be won or lost in the pits.
“The guys busted off a heck of a pit stop right there at the end,” he said. “It was going to be, if we went out behind the [No.] 1 car, I felt like the 1 car would have won the race. We were matching each other lap time for lap time. It’s hard to pass when you’re doing that. When he was in front of us, we were running the same lap times as him. When he was behind us, he was running the same lap times as us. That pit stop was key to getting off in the restart to win the race.”
Kyle Busch was able to overcome the mid-race contact on pit road and rally to a third-place finish. His fourth top five of the season allowed him to close in on Kevin Harvick for the points lead. The third-place finish was not without controversy, however.
On the final restart of the day, Busch went three-wide going into turn 1 and made slight contact with the left rear of Jeff Burton. That cut Burton’s tire, forced him to pit road and left him with a 25th-place finish. Following the race, the usually mild-mannered Burton went straight for Busch in a fit of rage.
“He’s real aggressive, and that’s cool,” Burton said. “But when it starts affecting me because of his aggressiveness I just will not put up with it. I’ve been around here long enough I just will not tolerate it.”
By staying out on that final stop, Martin was able to come home fourth, while defending race winner David Reutimann rounded out the top five. Jeff Gordon, Bowyer, Paul Menard, polesitter Newman and Kenseth made up the rest of the top-10.
Sunday’s running of the Coca-Cola 600 saw 33 lead changes amongst 17 different drivers and was slowed by cautions eight times for 34 laps. Next weekend the series heads to Long Pond, Pa. at the always tricky Pocono Raceway.