Busch holds off Gordon in Green-White-Checker finish
Another race – another victory for Busch. Kurt Busch, that is.
The older brother of NASCAR’s most dominant driver picked up his first Sprint Cup victory of the season Sunday, putting on a dominant performance of his own, passing Carl Edwards and then holding off Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checkered to win the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Edwards held on to finish third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers.
It was the 19th career victory for Busch and just his fifth since coming to drive for team owner Roger Penske in 2006
“This was big. Good things come to those who wait,” said Busch. “We’ve waited over a year-and-a-half for this COT to find a good package and we’ve had that to start 2009. Just from the get-go of the race, I knew we had something special, it was up to me to protect it.
“I’ve got to thank Carl Edwards for racing me clean at the end. Jeff Gordon was strong all day. When you beat those two kinds of guys here at Atlanta, especially on a day when it reminded me of Darlington, this place will just chew you up and spit you out, but we had it handled.”
Busch celebrated snapping a 22-race winless streak with a unique victory celebration – driving his Dodge Charger backwards around the entire 1.5-mile oval, with the checkered flag flying out the window.
“I was actually surprised at how tall the reverse gear was. I maintained a lot of speed,” said Busch. “The problem is that the caster is in reverse when you're heading that way. It was going to swap ends on me pretty quick.
“I just kept focus like Don Johnson would coming around the start/finish line, flipped a 180, did a little Miami Vice action. It was a real blast. Happy to do something like that today and create a statement. That could be the name for it, the Don Johnson.”
Busch was the class of the field all day, leading 234 of the 330 laps despite scraping the wall on lap 202. Busch made a pit stop with 64 laps to go and looked poised to gamble on fuel mileage before Robby Gordon brought out the 11th caution of the day with four laps to go.
Busch brought the field to pit road, followed by Vickers and Edwards, who beat everyone off pit road with a two-tire stop.
Edwards led the field to the green flag for the final three-lap shootout, but was no match for Busch as the Blue Deuce sped by on the outside pulling Gordon with him.
Gordon, looking to snap his own 44-race winless drought, gave all he had to catch Busch on the white flag lap, but his car began to slide up the track in the final turn as Busch pulled away for the victory.
“I felt like I had a real shot at him,” said Gordon. “Certainly we would have liked to have beaten (Busch) off pit road. Even in third, I thought we had a shot. We kind of had to settle for second.”
Edwards and his crew chief, Bob Osborne, were hampered all day with a pit stall between Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Knowing that everyone was coming to pit road for the green-white-checkered, Osborne gambled with a two-tire stop so Edwards would be off pit road before Earnhardt, Jr. made it to his pit stall.
“I didn’t pick that pit stall and Bob (Osborne) isn’t here to defend himself,” said Edwards. “We’ll just say that that pit stall got picked and it will never be picked again as long as I live.
“Our decision at the end to take two tires was based on (the pit stall location). We were gonna be blocked in. We had to take two tires. If we took four and got held up there and came out seventh or something, it would be bad for us, so we got the restart in the lead….I think that was the best position we could have been in. We had good race with Kurt and Jeff, but they got by us and we ended up third, which I think was the best-case in our situation.”
The slippery track conditions and tire wear were critical issues on the minds of many drivers at the start of Sunday’s race, and throughout the day it became apparent who had made the right adjustments, and who was still struggling to get a handle on the track.
“I'm going to be a guy to say that the tire was fine today because we had a dominant car,” said Busch. “I think if you go through the garage, you'd have to ask the others what they thought about the tire.
“When we come back and race here in September, it's going to be hot, it's going to be slick, it's going to be just as bad. So I feel like this gives us an advantage coming back in September running strong today.”
“We all knew what we had,” said Edwards. “Even though the tire was hard to drive, you could still get the car out of shape and gather it back up. I didn’t have trouble racing with someone.”
Among the drivers who failed to finish Sunday’s race were Greg Biffle, Scott Speed, Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte.
Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer held onto the top two spots in the points standings, while Kurt Busch jumped up four spots to third. Edwards moved up five spots to fourth in points, followed by Matt Kenseth.
* Denotes Rookie
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