CONCORD, N.C. _ The day started off with a battle between Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi in the Indianapolis 500 and at the end of the night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway it came down to a battle of Penske versus Ganassi to settle the 51st running of the Coca-Cola 600. Dario Franchitti may have been able to get the job done for Ganassi in Indy, but Kurt Busch was not going to let his Penske car be beaten by a Ganassi owned ride.
For much of the race Busch was the car to beat, leading 12 times for a total of 252 laps. The win, however, was not easy as he had to hold off Jamie McMurray to redeem team owner Roger Penske’s earlier disappointment and not allow two Ganassi victories in one day.
The battle for the victory came down to one final pit stop with just over twenty laps to go. McMurray led the field down for service, but it was Busch’s Steve Addington-led pit crew that was able to get them out ahead of the No. 1 car. To make matters worse for McMurray he left pit road third behind Busch and Matt Kenseth. With Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and pole-sitter Ryan Newman staying out, Busch restarted fourth with McMurray behind him on the outside line in sixth.
When the race restarted with 19 laps to go, it did not take the two long to find their way back out front. Making quick work of Gordon, Martin and Newman, the two were determined to settle it out amongst themselves. Once out front, Busch was able to open up a one second lead on McMurray. In two evenly matched cars, the two ran similar lap times over the next 19 circuits as Busch drove to his second victory of the year. This win also came one week after the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge took the checkered flag in the Sprint All-Star Race.
“This has been a dream come true, to be able to wrap up this special weekend, to put a bow on it with this Coca Cola 600 win,” Busch said. “It’s a prestigious race, a tough race, and most of all it’s a team race.”
Throughout the race, Busch’s car was strongest on the shorter runs, with McMurray coming to life after about 20 laps. However, using what he learned to win the All-Star Race, Busch was able to hammer down over the final 19 laps and take home the trophy in the process.
“With the caution coming out with 25 or so, my crew put me out in front,” Busch said. “I told them to loosen me up. I thought we would do it in 20. If we had a 50 lap run in the end, [McMurray] might have had the stronger car.
“I think what we saw last week with our power on the short run to win that All Star Race, we would have been foolish to do anything different except leave that setup in and work around it,” Busch said.
The strong performance for McMurray was not enough to give team owner Chip Ganassi the Memorial Day sweep, but it did move the Daytona 500 champion to within 26 marks of 12th in the point standings. While he was close to giving Ganassi the unprecedented Indy-Charlotte sweep, McMurray explained there was no added pressure; in fact it was not even a thought.
“Honestly, I didn’t think much about winning today because of Chip winning the [Indy] 500,” McMurray said. “He did come on my radio about halfway through when he showed up and tried to talk because he didn’t know he was talking to me. I yelled. I didn’t know who it was. Then they told me under caution that that was Chip. That was kind of funny. That was a good moment to have with him.”
For Busch, however, he knew it was a Ganassi car behind putting the pressure on for the win.
“Roger [Penske] is an amazing individual,” Busch said. “I’m happy to race for him and bring him home wins, especially on a day like today when he didn’t get it at Indy and we beat a Ganassi car today to win it. That’s something special… To beat a Ganassi car, McMurray, those guys kept us honest, he was in the mix. If I could say anything, I would say Ganassi should give that guy a raise and pay that man.”
I’m sure McMurray agrees.
JIMMIE SCREWS UP, TAKES HAMLIN WITH HIM
For years, Charlotte Motor Speedway was Jimmie Johnson’s house. In a span of six races from 2003 to 2005, Johnson won five races, four of them in a row. Sunday, it appeared Johnson would once again be a major factor in the outcome of the race leading twice for a total of 36 laps – that is until a loose race car got the best of the four-time champion.
Following a round of green flag pit stops 150 laps into the event, the rear tire changer pulled a spring rubber out of the left rear to free the car up. The adjustment worked, but worked a little too well. Johnson had his hands full over the next few laps and eventually lost the back of the car coming off Turn 4 on Lap 168. The No. 48 smacked the outside wall and shot back down the track.
Running behind him, Denny Hamlin was forced to drive through the frontstretch grass with his left side tires. Bouncing through the grass and back onto the track Hamlin damaged the splitter brace and was forced to come back down pit road. The damage ruined the handling of the No. 11 car and he was never able to recover.
For Johnson, however, the night was not over. With some damage to the left rear, the team was able to make repairs and send the No. 48 back out on the lead lap. That is until the car broke loose coming off the second corner on Lap 274. Running all by himself, Johnson slid the car down the track and made head-on contact with the inside wall.
Refusing to give in, the No. 48 team made repairs and had Johnson back on track by Lap 306. He would not make up any ground and ended the day in 37th.
KYLE BUSCH OVERCOMES SETBACK YET AGAIN
Under the caution for the Johnson-Hamlin incident on Lap 168, Kyle Busch led the field to pit road but did not lead them off. As he was exiting his stall, Busch nearly collided with the No. 43 of AJ Allmendinger, but was able to keep driving without incident, well kind of. After avoiding a near collision, Busch drove right into the door of Brad Keselowski who was making his way to the crew for service.
That heavy contact knocked the tow out of Busch’s car and forced the team to go from leading the race to working double-time to make repairs. In a series of about two laps, three of the top-running cars were taken out of contention, all while Busch and defending race-winner David Reutimann continued to run up front.
Whether it was the ‘new’ Kyle Busch, his confidence in crew chief Dave Rogers, his focus on the bigger championship picture or a combination of each, Busch was able to keep his composure and overcome the deficit to finish a strong third. In doing so, the 25-year-old moved within 29 marks of Kevin Harvick in the series standings.
“I mean, these are the nights that championships are made of,” Busch said. “We’ve protected ourselves tonight, got back up through there, got a good, solid third place finish out of it I’m happy about it.”
BURTON NOT HAPPY WITH ROWDY’S RACING
While Kyle Busch was happy with his results at the end of the night, Jeff Burton was not happy about how he got there. On the final restart, Busch was in the middle of a three-wide situation with Burton to his outside. As the field went through the second dog-leg on the frontstretch, Busch’s splitter made contact with the left rear tire of Burton’s No. 31. The tire went flat and Burton had to move high as the field sped through the first and second turn below him. He was able to get the car to pit road, but finished the night 25th, one lap down.
Following the race, Burton pulled his car beside Busch’s on pit road and, in an uncharacteristic fashion, got in Busch’s face. Clearly upset with his late-race move, the veteran let him have as the crews looked on.
“He said I didn’t race him very nicely,” Busch said as Burton walked the other direction. “He said I ran into him, and I don’t know what I could have done to have made that work without touching him. His teammate, the 33 (Clint Bowyer) made me three wide getting into [Turn] 1. I held it as tight as I could to the 33 trying to stay off the 31. I guess all that nice respect stuff [Burton] talked about earlier this week is out the window.”
“Well, Kyle made it three-wide there on the restart trying to make something happen. I can’t blame him for that,” Burton said. “The least he could do is stay off of me. He cut the left rear tire. I like racing with Kyle, I really do, I enjoy it. But when he gets overaggressive and I pay the price for it I am just not going to tolerate it. I am just not going to put up with it.”
Once he collected his thoughts and settled down, the more practical-thinking Burton returned.
“First he said he didn’t hit me. Then he said he got put there, then he said he had to go. He didn’t mean to do it, ok,” Burton said. “He was trying to defend himself and what he was saying wasn’t making sense. That’s ok, he was upset because I was yelling at him. He didn’t mean to do it, but he’s real aggressive and I don’t mind that but like I said when it affects me, then I have a problem.”
CONWAY TOUGHS IT OUT
This year’s Raybestos Rookie of the Year race is not a very compelling one. There were two drivers at the beginning of the year vying for the title, Kevin Conway and Terry Cook. After Cook and his team parted ways, that left Conway with no competition. Driving the Extenze sponsored car has drawn its fair share of jokes throughout the garage and his lackluster performances have done little to help.
Yet, during Sunday’s 600-mile endurance race, Conway showed his toughness and commitment to the sport. By Lap 150 of 400, Conway told his crew he had become ill in the car and was suffering from bad cramps. Start-and-park driver Michael McDowell had already parked his No. 55 for the day and was brought in as Conway’s relief driver. Despite throwing up inside his helmet multiple times and dealing with cramps, Conway stuck it out and completed the event without McDowell’s help.
“He toughed it out,” said crew chief Peter Sospenzo. “I’m surprised he made it really, being the longest race of the race of the year plus being sick and all that. He did a good job, he really did. He wasn’t feeling too good after a sinus infection last week but seemed like he was getting over it. I don’t know if he ate something or whatever.”
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