Gamble pays off for Kurt Busch with win at New Hampshire
After finishing second to teammate Ryan Newman in the season-opening Daytona 500, Kurt Busch became a well-worn cliché:
Out of sight, out of mind.
There's no question that since Daytona, the 2004 Cup champion has struggled, with just one other top-10 finish in the last 15 races.
But by a combination of luck, happenstance and rain, Busch managed to finally break through and win this past Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"Once I saw that we were leading and we were out in front with 26 (laps) to go, that good old Kurt Busch jumped up on the wheel," Busch said. "I told myself, 'don't let your team down.' This is what you live for, what you race for: to go to Victory Lane."
That the event was won on fuel mileage strategy and that it was shortened 17 laps due to rain doesn't matter to Busch.
"Hey, you take 'em when you can get 'em because you get burned plenty of times the other way," he said.
The biggest thing about Sunday's race is Busch earned his first win of 2008, one that he hopes will jump-start a turnaround as we prepare for the second half of the season.
"We started off with a bang at Daytona," Busch said. "We feel like we've got all the right people. I love (crew chief) Pat Tryson, all the crew guys underneath him and all the guys back at the shop.
"I just wish there was one thing we could put our finger on to do better, but we're going to keep working."
Frankly, Busch's win was far from picture-perfect. Had Tryson not gambled and kept his driver on the track while the leaders pitted for fuel and/or tires, the outcome likely would have been much different had the rain not come when it did.
But 10 laps after the decision was made, the rains came, NASCAR quickly called the race and Kurt was declared the winner, following younger brother Kyle's triumph the week before at Sonoma, Calif.
"This means the world to us," Tryson said. "We've struggled a little bit this year and it hasn't been as much fun as it was last year, obviously. But hopefully this will give us some momentum, put some more fun back in it, hopefully we can score some more wins and still make it in the Chase."
That's a pretty tall order for a team that has been virtually unheard from since Daytona.
Still, the win did help Busch climb four places in the standings, from 22nd to 18th place. But with nine races remaining to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the task is still rather daunting for Busch: he's currently 222 points out of the 12th and final Chase qualifying position.
But at the same time, Sunday's win could be a huge boost for a team that is far better than what its season record or overall performance indicate.
Busch isn't the only member of the Penske Racing organization that has struggled. Newman's win at Daytona was the biggest of his career, but he enters this weekend's Coke Zero 400 (formerly Pepsi 400) at Daytona International Speedway not much better than Kurt, being ranked 15th. Newman also finished 15th this past Sunday at Loudon, N.H.
And rookie Cup competitor Sam Hornish Jr., who finished 39th at New Hampshire, is mired in 33rd place with zero wins, top fives or top-10s.
"It's not due to lack of effort that we're not up front," Busch said, "because we're putting a full effort forward trying to find what it is."
Regardless of the way, Busch and the No. 2 Dodge team found it Sunday – and hope they can keep finding it each race from here on out.
Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports and a featured contributor for Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com.
THE KURT BUSCH FILE
-Kurt won the 2004 Cup championship, beating Jimmie Johnson by the smallest title-winning margin in Cup history: eight points.
-A native of Las Vegas, Kurt spent his summers as a teen working as a laborer for the city's water and sewers department.
-Younger brother Kyle remains the points leader in the Sprint Cup standings, and leads all Cup drivers with five wins (in 17 starts) thus far this season.
-In 15 starts at Daytona, Kurt has seven top-five finishes, including runner-up at this year's season-opening Daytona 500 and two other third-place outings in his last four starts there.