Kurt Busch wins rain shortened Cup race in Loudon
Kurt Busch and his No. 2 Miller Lite team decided to go for fuel mileage Sunday, hoping to salvage a good finish in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
For most of the afternoon, Busch raced under the radar while Tony Stewart, Casey Mears and a few others battled way ahead for the lead.
But Mother Nature smiled on Busch and a few other drivers after 284 of the 301 scheduled laps, drenching the track just 17 laps from completion.
Busch, who had inherited the lead when all the front-running cars had to pit for fuel after an accident brought out the day's fifth caution, captured his 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory
He wasn't alone in good fortune. Michael Waltrip, who finished second, and J. J. Yeley, who finished third, had pitted out of sequence from the leaders along with several other drivers and could make it to the finish without stopping again. All these cars were cruising around the track while Stewart and Co. were running flat-out towards the finish line.
"It's better sometimes to be lucky than good," Busch said afterwards. "We gambled on fuel mileage and came out ahead."
The accident that sent all the leaders to the pits happened on lap 271 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr., dropped down out of the groove to pit. Jamie McMurray didn't see Earnhardt and smashed the rear end of Junior's car, which spun down pit road. McMurray's car careened across the race track and collected the side of David Ragan's car, spinning him around.
The finish was one of the more bizarre this season and produced another new winner in Kurt Busch. Ten different drivers have now won races this season.
The final caution fell just before the rain when Bowyer and Sam Hornish, Jr., got together in turn three.
Points leader Kyle Busch, who struggled most of the day, got into a bumping incident under this caution with former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya turned Busch around, ending any chance Busch might have had for a better finish. Busch wound up 25th. NASCAR docked Montoya two laps for "aggressive driving," and the penalty put him in 32nd.
Threatening rain failed to dampen the enthusiasm and excitement of a near-capacity crowd at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
French-Canadian Patrick Carpentier, a fan favorite in this part of the country, started from his first pole position in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Carpentier, however, dropped to third by the fifth lap behind Harvick and Bobby Labonte. By lap 30, Harvick and Earnhardt, Jr., were a couple of seconds ahead with the cream of the NASCAR crop spaced out over a straightaway. Labonte was third, followed by Carpentier, Truex, A. J. Allmendinger, Hamlin, Kahne, Sorenson and Scott Riggs.
Earnhardt passed Harvick for the lead on the 45th lap, much to the delight of his rabid fans.
After the first green-flag pit stops, Harvick was back up front with Kahne on his bumper. Earnhardt was third at lap 86 when David Reutimann tapped Dario Franchitti's left rear fender, turning Franchitti around.
On the ensuing restart, Mears and Brian Vickers were up front with Harvick third. Stewart had moved from 28th starting position to fourth and Bowyer had moved from 18th to fifth. Bowyer, who won here last fall, had predicted a close, competitive race after practice on Saturday.
Behind Bowyer was Gordon, Hamlin and Johnson. Earnhardt was next, followed by Kahne, Truex and Labonte. Burton and Kyle Busch were next.
A caution for debris on the track slowed the fast-paced field at lap 140, with a majority of the field making a pit stop.
Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot pit crew put his Toyota back on the track first with Mears on his bumper. It was the first time Stewart led Sunday after having won Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race. By the halfway point (150 laps of the 301-lap distance), Stewart was leading Mears by a few car lengths. Gordon had moved to third.
Joe Nemechek spun to bring out another caution just a few laps after the restart.
The top 10 on the restart were Stewart, Gordon, Mears, Harvick, Bowyer, Johnson, Earnhardt, Hamlin, Burton and Truex.
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