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Dodge driver takes over Sprint Cup top spot

Posted Monday, Apr 27, 2009, 3:36 pm in Employee News

Kurt Busch is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader.

There were visible battle scares on the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge when the checkered flag ended Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, but not enough damage to keep Busch from posting a solid sixth-place finish and jump two spots to the top of the driver standings.

It’s Busch’s third consecutive top-10 finish and sixth of the season including a win at Atlanta. He is the first Dodge driver to lead the standings since the 2008 Daytona 500 when former Penske driver Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500. The last time Busch held the lead was following the Las Vegas race in March 2005.

Talladega is notorious for the “big one” with cars running two and three wide at speeds in excess of 190 mph. Sunday was no exception. There were two major incidents including a 14-car mishap on lap seven and a 10-car accident on lap 180. Nine cautions appeared during the 188-lap race. The race ended with a spectacular two-car mishap involving the leaders just short of the finish line.

Busch was caught up in the first mishap along with three other Dodge drivers. The damage to the No. 2 Dodge required a pit stop for repairs. He had two more encounters that damaged the No. 2 Dodge in the first 60 laps, but quick action by the crew had Busch back on the track quickly.

“I felt like we put ourselves in position to win on the last restart, being third,” Busch said. “That’s almost one of the best spots to be in for a restart with just a few laps remaining. We just didn’t get a run (push) from behind. Everyone was fanning out trying to get a top five. No worries for us. We were definitely more competitive than we were at Daytona. It was a good effort to be sixth today. It’s Talladega. I circled this one on the calendar to just try and survive. I’m glad that we did that. I’m glad our Dodge engine ran all day. That’s such a good solid effort … to be eighth two weeks ago, then a third and now a sixth today. That’s what we have to do.

“That’s great (leading points), but we’re smart enough to not count too much into that. There’s too much racing left to be done. But it does stand for something we can be awful proud of—that we finally are able to be consistently running up front at most of the tracks now. That’s a great feeling for our Miller Lite Dodge team and for everyone who has been working hard at Penske Racing. That’s a really cool feeling.”

With the exception of patching up the No. 2 Dodge after a mishap, crew chief Pat Tryson and the crew made few adjustments on Busch’s Charger. From the time the crew unloaded the racecar on Friday, the performance was near perfect. Busch qualified 28th, but in the draft, his Dodge Charger was fast.

“It was a good day for us,” Tryson said. “We had a shot. We just didn’t have anybody pushing us there at the end. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the help we needed, but it was a good day, points-wise. All in all, it was a good day.”

Reed Sorenson finished 11th in the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Dodge. Running in the top 10, Sorenson cut down a tire on lap 113 and had to make an unscheduled pit stop. He went a lap down, but managed to get back on the lead lap and make another run at the top 10 in the closing stages of the race.

“We had a pretty good start to the day, but then I cut a right-rear tire about half-way through the race,” Sorenson said. “Luckily we were in Turn 4 and avoided a wreck somehow and were able to get the car down pit road and get it fixed. We got back out there, got our lucky dog and just rode our way to the best finish that we could.”

Three Richard Petty Motorsports drivers—Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger—were involved in the 14-car melee on lap seven. Sadler was able to continue, but the Dodges of Kahne and Allmendinger received extensive damage requiring an extended stay in the garage for repairs.

Sadler came back to lead once for three circuits with just over 50 laps remaining. He finished 19th.

“It was a good day for Best Buy Dodge Charger,” Sadler said. “We had to start the race at the back of the field because of the engine change and raced our way all the way to the front to lead. We got caught up in the first wreck and got a little damage, but we were able to continue on. We led laps and picked up five bonus points and finished in one piece moving forward. Not a bad day overall. Hopefully this will give us some momentum heading into my home track at Richmond (Va.).”

Allmendinger finished 35th and Kahne was 36th. The finish dropped Kahne from 10th to 14th in the point standings.

The 10-car mishap on lap 180 collected both of Busch’s teammates—David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. The duo had run in the top 10 much of the race. The mishap started right in front of both drivers, leaving the pair no chance to avoid the mishap. Both cars received extensive damage and were not able to continue. Stremme was 31st and Hornish 34th.

“It was a good day for our Penske Dodge Charger, just a tough finish for us,” Stremme said. “It was a normal Talladega deal with guys doing a lot of bump drafting and a lot of guys doing stupid stuff out there today; it is what it is. We had a good car today. We could have gotten a top-10 or top-five here for sure”

Hornish led laps in the No. 77 AAA/Penske Truck Rental Dodge.

“We had a pretty good day going in our Penske Truck Rental/AAA Dodge,” Hornish said. “We got out there and lead some laps … actually lead them and not just by staying out (under caution). I’m really happy with all the work the guys on the 77 crew put in again. It’s a big jump up for all of Penske Racing compared to what we had at Daytona.

My hat is off to Penske Racing engines and the guys in the fab (fabrication) shop that built these cars. We’ll go to Richmond next weekend and hopefully build on the momentum that I still feel we have. We were just at the wrong place at the wrong time today.”

The Dodge Boys

Kurt Busch, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger, 6
Reed Sorenson, No. 43 Air Force Dodge Charger, 11
Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Best Buy Dodge Charger, 19
David Stremme, No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge Charger, 31
Sam Hornish Jr., No. 77 Penske Truck Rental/AAA Dodge Charger, 34
AJ Allmendinger, No. 44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge Charger, 35
Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger, 36

NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings
(After 9 of 36 Races)
1. Kurt Busch (Dodge), 1,242
2. Jeff Gordon, -85
3. Jimmie Johnson, -64
4. Tony Stewart, -67
5. Denny Hamlin, -106
6. Kyle Busch, -175
7. Carl Edwards, -180
8. Clint Bowyer, -201
9. Jeff Burton, -207
10. Greg Biffle, -218
11. David Reutimann, -222
12. Matt Kenseth, -236
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