FONTANA, Calif. (Sept. 2, 2007) Kurt Busch moved closer to clinching a position in the Chase for the Championship with his ninth-place finish in Sunday's Sharp AQUOS 500 at California Speedway, but for Ryan Newman, his hopes of making this year's title chase ended.
Newman pulled his Kodak Dodge Charger into the garage with an engine problem with 55 laps remaining in the 250-lap race at the 2-mile track and had to settle for a 39th-place finish. He was running in the top 15 when the problem occurred.
Busch, on the other hand, gained a position in the standings, moving up to 11th while Kevin Harvick dropped to 12th. Busch now trails 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. by 20 points and is only 25 points behind the ninth-place Clint Bowyer.
"We're certainly not totally out of the woods just yet, but it feels good to climb up a spot and have someone else as a buffer back to 13th now," Busch said. "I feel pretty solid. You know there's a guy behind us now to give us a little bit of cushion. It's going to be an interesting race in Richmond, but for us, we feel like our short track program is where it needs to be. We finished fifth there in the spring, so we're looking forward to a good race there next weekend."
After starting on the pole and leading twice for 21 laps in the brutal 100-degree plus heat, Busch's Miller Lite Dodge Charger developed a "loose in, tight in the middle and loose off" handling condition from lap 40 on. Even after his Pat Tryson-led team removed a spring rubber on a lap 113 pit stop, the loose condition continued.
Busch, Tryson and the Miller Lite crew decided to roll the dice with a lengthy pit stop on lap 165 during the race's ninth caution period. The 17.36-second stop saw the team do major work on the right rear suspension, opening the shock absorber and making substantial wedge adjustments.
With 80 laps remaining, Busch was mired in 23rd, but the change made to the car worked for the good and he started picking off cars one by one as he headed to the front. He was back up to 18th when the race's 10th yellow flag flew on lap 174, and he was 15th after the track's record-tying 11th caution flag on lap 179.
Busch was 10th on lap 200 and he passed Kasey Kahne on lap 225 for the ninth position. Even though he was closing in on eighth-place Brian Vickers by almost two-tenths of a second per lap in the final laps, he ran out of time to advance any further.
"The night was really interesting," Busch said. "I felt like our car, as the race grew longer, we just kept getting looser. I'm not sure what added to that, but maybe we were disguised by our good run at Michigan, but it was 60 degrees out at Michigan and it was 160 (degrees) today. We were just on the loose side of things. The car started off OK, just every lap we made we kept getting worse and worse. We changed everything under the sun to make the Miller Lite Dodge better, but all-in-all, we'll take this finish in the top 10. That's what consistency is all about."
Prior to Newman's departure he led once for one lap, and had recovered from a spin on lap 94 when his car was tagged in the rear by Jeff Burton to challenge for a top-10 position. Then, for the second straight night, a problem developed with the engine in the Kodak Dodge.
Newman, who qualified fourth for the California race, said the fact he didn't make the Chase this year wouldn't change his approach to the season's remaining 11 races.
"I will still try as hard as I can each and every lap, no matter what," Newman said after climbing from his car. "We couldnt expect to make up as much as we did; it would have been a miraculous effort in these last two races. Nevertheless, well just keep trying. We have 11 more races to go to get the Alltel/Mobil 1/Kodak Dodge in victory lane.
Entering the California race, Newman was 14th in the standings, 175 points out of 12th, the last Chase eligible position. With his early exit from Sunday night's race, Newman remains in 14th, but he is now 254 points behind 12th-place Kevin Harvick.
Next Saturday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Speedway has a scheduled 7:30 p.m. EDT starting time. The 400-lap, 300-mile battle will feature live coverage by ESPN-ABC and MRN Radio.