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Busch finishes fifth in Sprint Cup race

Posted Monday, Feb 23, 2009, 1:11 pm in Motorsports

The off-season work at Penske Racing appears to be paying dividends on the track in 2009. Kurt Busch recorded his second straight top-ten finish in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger with a solid fifth in the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Busch raced in the top five throughout the 250-lap event on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval. He led once and received solid support from his team as crew chief Pat Tryson kept pace with the changing track conditions from day to night with accurate adjustments and the over-the-wall crew turned in consistently fast pit stops throughout the race which lasted 20 minutes short of four hours.

Combined with a 10th at Daytona in the season opener, Busch jumped to third in the season point standings.

“It was a good night for us,” Busch said. “I felt that our car had a great set-up in it. Our crew did a great job on pit road on our stops with the Miller Lite Dodge. We’re happy. A top-five finish is good.

“It’s an excellent turnaround over the off-season. It’s only one race; we still have a long way to go. It was a good solid run for us. We ran in the top five all day and came home fifth. I think some of the off-season changes have helped. It’s a good way to get a report card early. We have to keep working on it, making good adjustments and putting ourselves in position to win.”

Tryson says Penske teams are doing things differently.

“We’re doing some stuff differently than we did last year, so it’s a pretty good way to start the season,” Tryson said. “We still have a lot to learn with this car, but two top 10s to start the season, that’s good momentum. We still have more to do, but we’ve taken a big step from where we were last year. Hopefully we can keep tweaking on it and get ourselves in position to win races.”

Busch’s teammate, David Stremme, finished 13th as 16 cars were on lead lap at the checkered flag. A tire problem at Daytona nixed a strong run by the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge, so Stremme was anxious to rebound.

“We needed a solid finish after the misfortune at Daytona,” he said. “Roy (crew chief, McCauley) and the crew did a good job. We were off in qualifying, but made a lot of improvement in practice and the car was even better in the race. I’m really proud of the finish we had. We still have more work to do, but it was a solid run for the No. 12 Dodge team.”

The third driver from the Penske stable, Sam Hornish Jr., ran in the top 15 through the early part of the race before a jack malfunctioned during a pit stop and left the No. 77 Auto Club Dodge team a lap down. Although Hornish was running laps comparable with those cars on the lead lap during the race, he never got the opportunity to make up the deficit.

“We had a pretty good car and should have had a better finish,” Hornish said. “We had a problem with the jack on a green flag pit stop and ended up losing a lap. Then I sped on pit road. We had a small problem and compounded it into a bigger problem. We just couldn’t get the lap back. We should have been a lot better than 23rd. We got what we could out of it today. We ran a good race. The team worked together. I was happy with the Auto Club Dodge and the people working on it. This car was much better than the cars I’ve had here the last couple of races. That’s what was disappointing. I feel like we had close to a top-10 car.”

Other Dodge finishes

Kasey Kahne(No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger): Kahne fell a lap down early, but managed to make up the deficit with a chance of making it into the top 10 in the closing laps before settling for 12th. “I feel we still have some work to do to catch those front three or four cars. They are so much quicker. From sixth or seventh back, we’re just a little off. Those front four or five, they were really tough today.”

Reed Sorenson(No. 43 Charter Communications Dodge Charger): Sorenson received a pit-road speeding penalty early. Coupled with a 96-lap green flag segment, the No. 43 Dodge went a lap down to the leaders, but Sorenson battled back to finish 21st. “Man that was a tough night for us,” Sorenson said. “We struggled trying to get our car to turn in the center of the corner. There for a while, the only way I could get the car to turn was to pitch it sideways. For as much as we struggled, to walk out of here with the finish we did is a pretty good feeling. We’ll be better in Las Vegas.”

Elliott Sadler(No. 19 Best Buy Dodge Charger): Handling problems slowed Sadler early, but the team rebounded in the second half of the race to finish 25th. “The No. 19 Best Buy Dodge was really missing on the front end,” Sadler said. “We came a long way from practice yesterday, but we’re still missing something. We tried some things that we learned at Rockingham during the off-season, but it didn’t transfer as well as we would have liked to this track. We had great pit stops all night long, and I can’t thank the No. 19 crew enough. They really worked hard tonight to get us as much as they could. Tonight may not have been exactly what we were looking for, but we learned some things and got as many points as we possibly could. What we learned tonight should help us get better next weekend in Las Vegas.”

AJ Allmendinger(No. 44 Charter Communications Dodge Charger): Allmendinger started eighth and was looking to match his season-opening third at Daytona. He finished 29th. “We had no front grip all night long no matter what changes we made,” he said. “We made a lot of changes to the Charter Dodge throughout the race, but nothing seemed to help the car gain front grip. We were so tight in the center that it just killed us. I’ll give my guys credit, they stayed with me and we worked on it throughout the race and got it pretty decent there at the end.”
Auto Club 500 Race Results

1. Matt Kenseth
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Kyle Busch
4. Greg Biffle
5. Kurt Busch (Dodge)
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Carl Edwards
8. Tony Stewart
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Brian Vickers
(Other Dodge Finishers)
12. Kasey Kahne
13. David Stremme
21. Reed Sorenson
23. Sam Hornish Jr.
25. Elliott Sadler
29. AJ Allmendinger
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