HAMPTON, Ga. – Mirroring last year’s victory, Kurt Busch and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team claimed the checkered flag in Sunday’s (March 7) Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Leading six times for 129 laps, Busch made his winning move in a three-wide pass during the race’s first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Busch says that balance in his racecar was the key to his win,
“It was a great battle for us. Our Miller Lite Dodge was definitely setup for being a utility-type car. It was good on long runs, good on the middle runs and good on short runs. We weren’t excellent in any area. We were good overall with the different stints that you had to run on tires.”
Busch kept alive a tradition he started last season at this race, by grabbing the checkered flag and then doing a slow, backwards victory lap. Something that he said last year would “let the car unwind”.
Busch’s crew chief Steve Addington won this race two years ago with Kurt’s brother Kyle and told the media after the race that he felt vindicated by the victory, but still remains good friends with Kyle Busch.
Matt Kenseth, racing with crew chief Todd Parrott at the helm, never led the race but seemed satisfied with his No. 17 Valvoline Ford,
“It was a really good, solid day for us. I thought a couple of times we were not a really good car, then [we] made adjustments and most of the time we were somewhere from a third to a fifth- or sixth-place car. Overall, it was really good. We had really good pit stops, good adjustments and had a couple of really good restarts there at the end and slid into second.”
Juan Pablo Montoya hung in the top five for most of the day but could not capitalize on the two GWC restarts, ending up in third. Kasey Kahne led a race-high eight times for 144 laps but finished fourth and Paul Menard had a non-restrictor plate career-best run in fifth. The rest of the top 10 were AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Scott Speed.
The race’s most dramatic event happened on lap 323 when Carl Edwards, in obvious retaliation of an early-race incident with Brad Keselowski, sent the No. 12 Dodge on a tailspin that caused him to get airborne and hit the catchfence on the front straightaway roof-first. NASCAR parked Edwards and the No. 99 for the rest of the race and called him to their trailer immediately.
The following GWC restart got the field bunched up after Kahne made a desperate, bonsai move below the yellow line to try to take the lead. When he got loose and slipped into the high lane, cars behind him bottled up and seven cars (Nos. 1, 5, 11, 18, 33, 38 and 56) crashed in turn 4. In that bunch were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both of whom earlier had been taken out of contention by faulty tires and had led 32 and 22 laps respectively.
Tire abuse led to numerous failures and many days ruined in the race. Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a top-10 car but floundered in the back of the pack most of the race after having to pit with a vibration early in the event. The multiple restarts at the end of the race allowed the No. 88 to rebound and finish 15th. Tire problems also struck Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Mark Martin, David Ragan, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, among others.
Some drivers and Goodyear both say that over-aggressive setups and high speeds caused the failures. Other drivers say that the shredded rubbers were inexcusable and Goodyear needs to conduct more tests and come up with a better compound. Two years ago at AMS, many chastised Goodyear for bringing an extremely hard compound, which ruined the racing and handling of the cars.
For the third time this season, a caution flag waved right as Johnson made a green-flag pit stop, meaning he did not lose track position for pitting with his flat. Johnson ran in the top 10 for most of the day, but pitted late in the event for tires while other leaders remained on the track. Trapped toward the back of the top 20, Johnson held his position before making significant gains on the final two restarts (and avoiding a big crash) to finish 12th. He sits fourth in the points standings.
Harvick, winner of Saturday’s NCWTS E-Z Go 200, and the No. 29 team struggled with their setup all day Sunday, but navigated through the late-race madness and finished ninth. He leads the standings by 26 points over Kenseth. Biffle sits third in points and all three drivers are the only ones to have four top 10s in each race to start this season.
The Kobalt Tools 500 featured 31 lead changes amongst 13 drivers and there were 11 cautions for 53 laps. The race went 16 circuits beyond the scheduled 325 laps because of the late cautions and two GWC attempts. NASCAR also says that the engines and chassis of Busch, random pick and seventh-place finisher Brian Vickers, and start-and-parker Michael McDowell in the No. 55 will be taken back to the R&D center for inspection, while only the engine of Kenseth’s No. 17 will be examined.
After an off weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 March 21.
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