Busch hits N.H. double, shares top spot

Track experience pays off in Sylvania 300 victory

Auto Racing

September 20, 2004|By Shawn Courchesne | Shawn Courchesne,THE HARTFORD COURANT

LOUDON, N.H. - When Kurt Busch came to New Hampshire International Speedway in July for a Nextel Cup Series event, he had spent the previous week on a New England vacation and was blessed with some beautiful summer weather.

His most recent trip to New England was spent, for the most part, watching rain pour over the racetrack for the better part of two days.

Busch loved it all the same.

The only time the Nextel Cup Series teams got on the track here before yesterday's Sylvania 300 was a two-hour practice session Friday. Qualifying Friday and two Saturday practice sessions were lost to rain.

That gave Busch, who drove a dominating car in winning the Siemens 300 in New Hampshire on July 25, an edge over his nine opponents to start the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup. He used it to his full advantage yesterday, completing the season sweep at New Hampshire by running away with the Sylvania 300 before 101,000, finishing 2.4 seconds ahead of runner-up Matt Kenseth.

After the win in July, Busch's Roush Racing team tucked its car away in the shop, not daring to take it to any other track before the start of the Chase. With rain wiping out most of the race prep for teams, the decision paid off.

"With limited track time we were able to make the right adjustments based upon our past experience here," Busch said. "And knowing that we had a good racecar, it left for not many variables on what to choose for a setup."

And between July and this weekend, no other teams were able to find the secret to catching up with Busch on the 1.058-mile oval.

The victory yesterday vaulted Busch from seventh place in the Chase standings into a tie for the lead with third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seven of the 10 Chase contenders finished in the top 13.

"I was a bit sarcastic [Saturday] saying we could come away with the points lead," Busch said. "And here we are."

Busch led 155 laps, at times opening up as much as a six-second lead on the field.

Kenseth, who hung around the top 10 most of the day, took over second after a round of green-flag pit stops with about 40 laps left.

Busch and Earnhardt are tied at the top of the standings with 5,210 points. Jeff Gordon, the points leader coming in, is third with 5,201, and Kenseth is fourth with 5,200.

Earnhardt was able to salvage third place in spite of a late battle with teammate Michael Waltrip.

Waltrip and Earnhardt pitted together under green on lap 258 and came back out onto the track together. Four laps later Earnhardt was shaking a fist out his window at Waltrip going down the frontstretch after Waltrip battled him for position on the track.

"We came off pit road side-by-side," Earnhardt said. "He drove the car all the way up to the yellow line as if I wasn't even there. And then when we went into a corner I thought he was trying to give me the spot. When we got to the center of the corner he'd still be there and I'd about wreck into the side of him. ... I came out [of the pits] right behind [Kenseth] and I was a straightaway behind him when I got by [Waltrip].

"I needed a little help there and I expected to get a little and I didn't get any."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Points leaders

Top 10 Driver....Points

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ....5,210

2. Kurt Busch....5,210

3. Jeff Gordon....5,201

4. Matt Kenseth....5,200

5. Jimmie Johnson....5,180

6. Elliott Sadler....5,172

7. Mark Martin....5,139

8. Tony Stewart....5,086

9. Ryan Newman....5,074

10. Jeremy Mayfield....5,068

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