Kurt Busch finishes a strong second at Watkins Glen
Maybe all it took for Kurt Busch to be successful this year was to remove the Hendrick bullseye from his back.
At least twice this season Busch was taken out of contention by one of the drivers in the Hendrick stable.
At Sunday's Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, he was able to get the Hendrick monkey off his back and record a second-place finish, his best Sprint Cup finish at the 2.45-mile road course.
“Overall, just for us to finally put a nice exclamation point on a road course race without having anything go wrong, not running out of fuel, not having a flat tire not getting run over by a Hendrick car feels pretty good,” Busch said.
From his vantage point in the top five for most of the race, Busch had a birds-eye of the battle between eventual winner Juan Pablo Montoya and third place finisher Marcos Ambrose.
Busch said he thought he could use the on-track battle between Montoya and Ambrose to his advantage.
“The thing I was looking forward to was those guys' lack of experience, so to speak, in finding the pace of the race,” Busch said. “We've seen guys like Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace win at road racing because you have that oval mentality (of) waiting till the end to attack. Don't run every lap on that ragged edge.”
Busch said he bided his time and waited for Montoya and Ambrose to beat each other up. His goal was to stay within striking distance of the leaders and pounce when the opportunity presented itself.
Busch’s strategy was half right.
With only two laps to go in the 90-lap race, Busch was able to pass Ambrose, whose car slowed down after taking new tires in his last pit stop.
But a second-place finish was as good as Busch could muster. He finished almost five seconds behind Montoya.
“My thought was the Colombian, the Australian would rough each other up running aggressively, not knowing when to pace themselves,” Busch said. “But what I noticed ... is the fact they have matured into the realm of what it takes to be competitive at Sprint Cup levels. They've done a great job and peaked really well in the three, four years they've been in it.”
Even though the win eluded Busch, he attributed patience and consistency as keys to the best road course finish of his career.
“It’s always tough to get those restarts and separate yourself,” Busch said. “That’s when you’re taking a little bit of a risk or you really got to be on the aggressive side because you can get bottled up real quick. Once it would stretch out, you wanted to run a comfortable pace, but you wanted to maintain a pace with the leaders. I couldn’t quite do that.”
Busch knew that with the race winding down he had to throw caution to the wind if he was to make a move on Montoya and Ambrose.
“(Montoya and Ambrose) were right on the edge all day,” Busch said. “I felt like I kept my car at 97 percent or 98 percent and left that extra 2 percent just for that edge. When I saw two (laps) to go and Ambrose slipped up big in Turn 1, I chewed away. He had 15 car lengths on me. I chewed away 11 of them. I said ‘I’m going to let it rip, take that extra chance and go for second place.”