Oct. 2, 2011
In a tightly contested race that saw 13 different drivers lead, Kurt Busch was able to outrun Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards to win the “AAA 400” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Dover International Speedway. It was Busch’s first win at Dover in 23 career starts.
Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge, drove away from Johnson on two late restarts, both of which featured slip-ups by Johnson that left him kicking himself after the race. Edwards led 116 of the first 176 laps, but suffered a self-inflicted wound when he was whistled for speeding on pit road on lap 261. He fell all the way back to 25th and was able to drive back to third, but ran out of time.
“It was a great race today for us” Busch said. “We almost had a perfect weekend. We missed the pole position by three thousandths of a second. We had our debriefings after practice and we knew we just had to perfect a few things. To just miss out on the pole was kind of a bummer, but to take the lead early on and lead laps – we’ve been in that position before, but as the race progresses, we lose a little bit of a handle, but today we were good.”
Busch took the lead on lap 3 and held it for 39 laps, but the car started to get worse as the race went on. He fell back to fifth in the middle of the race, complaining of an ill-handling car, even almost losing it when he went sideways on lap 173 before recovering. But the team was able to recover as the race went on.
“He was giving great feedback, and we were just trying to figure out how to get our car going,” said crew chief Steve Addington. “It was probably halfway through the race when we got a hold of what direction we needed, and we got the breaks we needed to make those adjustments.”
By lap 288, Busch was starting to head back up through the field. By lap 324, he was running second to Johnson. Then on lap 352, the caution came out when Mike Bliss hit the wall coming out of Turn 2. When the green flag flew on lap 359, Busch took the outside lane and passed Johnson to take the lead. Then when Greg Biffle spun on lap 363, Busch beat Johnson on the restart again at lap 366.
“With two restarts to go, I was on the outside of the 48 car, and I got to his high side and took the lead,” Busch said. “On the second one, we switched to two tires, beat Johnson out of the pits and had the inside lane on the restart.”
Afterwards, Johnson was lamenting the missed opportunity.
“I did a really good job up [on restarts] until those last two,” Johnson said. “I have to say, when you’re the leader you have a small advantage because you go when you want. But I blew it by spinning the tires, Kurt got a good launch and we were door to door going into Turn 1. Then the next one I was going to do the same thing back to him, and I didn’t time it right. I had too big of a gap and fell in behind him going into Turn 1. So I put that on me.”
Even after beating Johnson to the line on the restart from the outside the first time around, Busch chose the inside on the second one.
“The way that today went, I felt like the bottom lane was the preferred lane, and you really had to hit it perfect on that top side,” he said. “I was just going with the percentages. It was great that we were able to jump him on both restarts and pull away.”
As for Edwards, his day was a blazing success considering what it could have been without a car as good as his was. He led 116 laps, more than any other driver. It was something he’d predicted on Saturday, when he led 174 of 200 laps while winning the “OneMain Financial 200” NASCAR Nationwide Series race. So although the pit road mistake cost him, it only cost him two positions – the only drawback to that was that both drivers ahead of him were also in the Chase.
“It was a great day other than that feeling I had when I ruined it there on pit road,” Edwards said. “That’s about as small as you can feel in a race car. That last section [of pit road, crew chief Bob Osborne] and I actually discussed, it’s 25 feet 8 inches long, and we talked about that one and how I was not going to speed through it, and I just blasted through it. The other thing that was important was my guys sticking behind me, because they had every right to be really, really upset with me.
“We avoided a major disaster today. Fortunately we made it back up to the front, but I feel like I let everybody down there. I was having a bad time in the car. I was really frustrated with myself. Hopefully that lesson will pay off later.”
The effect of the day on the points standings was enormous. Edwards went from fourth in the Chase to a tie for the lead with Kevin Harvick, who is ahead by virtue of tiebreaker. Tony Stewart, who finished 25th, fell back to a tie for third, nine points back, after leading by seven points going into the race. And Busch and Johnson made huge leaps, erasing 15 and 16 points, respectively, off their deficits going into the race – Busch left tied with Stewart, while Johnson is now just 13 points back. In all, 15 points separates first and eighth place.
“Obviously we circled this one as a place to come to overcome some things, and the guys did a good job today,” Harvick said. “This isn’t a super strong racetrack for us, but we felt like we’ve been solid over the last couple of years, solid enough to get decent finishes and get out of here.”
It’s been said that everyone has a hiccup at one point or another in the Chase, and if that’s the case, today it was Stewart who had his. He was never a factor in the race.
“We just struggled with the whole package,” Stewart said. “Even when we got the balance halfway decent, we didn’t have speed. So we just missed it.”
A promising start to the day for Martin Truex, Jr. also went by the wayside. Truex, whose only career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came here at Dover, was on the pole for the race. But after leading the first two laps, he went straight backwards. He ended up finishing 30th, four laps down.
There were 24 lead changes among 13 drivers over the day, and the race was slowed by 10 cautions for 44 laps. The average speed of the race was 119.413 mph, and it took 3 1/2 hours to run.