BROOKLYN, Mich. &
Things have turned around for onetime NASCAR bad boy Kurt Busch.
He is staying out of trouble and doesn't even get booed in prerace introductions as much as he used to. And, better yet, the 2004 Nextel Cup champion is winning again.
After Busch won for the second time in three races, prevailing in a rare Tuesday NASCAR event after two days of rain postponements at Michigan International Speedway, he gave most of the credit for the change of attitude to team owner Roger Penske.
"Working under Roger, finding his ways and how to deal with people, whether it's internally or with our sponsors, it really gave me a better perspective what this racing thing is all about," said Busch, who joined Penske Racing in 2005, replacing longtime star Rusty Wallace in the team's No. 2 Dodge.
"Maybe before I pushed too hard thinking that maybe I could predict or control the outcome of races and not use the team atmosphere," Busch added. "I'm happy flying under the radar and I'm happy delivering wins for our sponsors and, right now, the most important thing is getting into the Chase (for the Nextel Cup championship)."
Winning the 3M Performance 400, Busch took a big step toward that goal.
He solidified his berth in the 12-man lineup for the upcoming Chase, holding off Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps for the 17th win of his career.
NASCAR's top circuit had never run on a Tuesday after a weather postponement during the modern era, which began in 1973.
The race was originally scheduled to be run Sunday, but two days of rain kept the cars off the track. Other than a 32-minute fog delay Tuesday after the first 10 laps, the race was run without any more weather problems.
A spin by Greg Biffle with just two laps remaining sent the race into overtime. But Busch easily pulled away from Truex's DEI Chevrolet when the green flag waved for a two-lap sprint on lap 202.
Busch, who didn't take his first lead until lap 101 and wound up leading four times for 92 laps, beat Truex to the finish by 0.495 seconds &
about eight car lengths on the high-banked, 2-mile oval.
There were two cautions in the last 13 laps and Busch stayed on track with worn tires while some of the cars chasing him pitted for fresh rubber. But he made two perfect restarts.
"The yellows at the end made it a little bit dicey &
do you come in or do you not come in? But the calls were spot on and we just had a perfect day," said Penske, who used to own the Michigan track.
"It was tough," Busch said. "You know, I've got to thank the fans who stuck it out on a Tuesday to see a green-white-checker (finish). We put it on for them here at the end, all the restarts, all of the guys on different strategy, it really was a tough, hard-fought win."
Reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Dave Blaney and Carl Edwards, who won here in June.
With just three races remaining until the start of the 10-race stock car playoff, Busch remains 12th in the standings, 33 points behind Truex. Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped past Ryan Newman into 13th, but a slow pit stop late in the race cost him and he finished 12th.
"This was a great win," said Busch, who broke a 51-race winless string two weeks ago at Pocono. "It just backs up what we did at Pocono."
His late-season charge into the Chase has coincided with the arrival of crew chief Pat Tryson, who took over the job in June after being fired as Greg Biffle's crew chief by Busch's former employer, Jack Roush.
At that point, Busch was 15th in the standings and didn't look like a likely candidate to make the Chase.
"When we started eight races or so ago (the plan) was to get 20 points on everybody around us each week, behind us, in front of us," Tryson said. "I think that's how we've still got to look at it because it's easy to lose 90 points in a single day."
Busch said he's just following a game plan that works.
"It's just the same plan we've had for the last five or six weeks, which is just gain points and don't lose track of the big picture, which is just get in the Chase."
Series leader Jeff Gordon, who started from the pole, was in the top five most of the day before some late problems relegated him to a 27th-place finish.
Gordon's crew had to make a quick repair on a loose flap along the edge of the No. 24's rear window during a late pit stop, costing the four-time Cup champion several positions. He then had a near-collision with Matt Kenseth and spun into the infield, falling out of the lead lap after getting stuck in the grass left soft and muddy by the heavy rains of the past two days.
"Matt was a little impatient with me, but we may have had a tire going down," Gordon said.
Earnhardt, desperately trying to make his way into the Chase lineup, was also a top-10 car most of the day, but he slid through his pits on a late stop and also fell out of contention.
"I made a mistake on that pit stop late in the race and that probably cost us about five spots," Earnhardt said.
Truex, Earnhardt's teammate who also ran second here in June, was a bit frustrated finishing behind Busch, the driver closest to him in the battle for the Chase.
"I wanted it so bad I could taste it back there behind Kurt," Truex said. "I felt like last time we probably had the car to beat. This time we didn't. This time we had good strategy and a good car there at the end."
Kurt Busch bests the field in rain-delayed 3M Performance 400
BROOKLYN, Mich. &