Capitalizing on superior fuel mileage, Kurt Busch drove his No. 2 Dodge to victory in the Dickies 500, after disaster struck Jimmie Johnson like a lightning bolt and made a race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after all.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 8, 2009) — In recent weeks, Jimmie Johnson has worn out the already threadbare phrase, “Anything can happen in our sport.”
On Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, it finally did.
Capitalizing on superior fuel mileage, Kurt Busch drove his No. 2 Dodge to victory in the Dickies 500, after disaster struck Johnson like a lightning bolt and made a race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after all.
Johnson suffered a Lap 3 wreck that sidelined his No. 48 Chevrolet for more than an hour as his team made extensive repairs. With a 38th-place finish, Johnson lost 111 points of his 184-point lead in the Chase to second-place Mark Martin, who finished fourth and trails Johnson by 73 points with two races left.
Busch won the race at the expense of brother Kyle Busch, who ran out of fuel three laps short of completing an unprecedented weekend sweep of races in NASCAR’s top three divisions. Busch had won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday and the NASCAR Nationwide Series event on Saturday.
After pitting on Lap 269 of 334, Kyle Busch was leading and trying to conserve fuel when he ran out on the backstretch on Lap 331. “I’m out! I’m out—coming to you!” he radioed to crew chief Dave Rogers, who had replaced Steve Addington on the pit box after last Sunday’s race at Talladega.
That handed the lead to Kurt, who had pitted on Lap 271 and had saved enough fuel to make it to the finish line.
Denny Hamlin took advantage of the pervasive gas shortage to finish second, 25.686 seconds behind Busch, the largest margin of victory in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race since the inception of electronic scoring in May 1993. Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Martin, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Those were the only six drivers to finish on the lead lap, the fewest since six cars finished on the lead lap in June 2008 at Dover.
“I knew what we had for fuel mileage — I was confident in our guys’ numbers,” Kurt Busch said in Victory Lane. “They gave me what I needed to win today. We were fast, we were playing cat-and-mouse with Kyle on restarts — you know, it’s the first true time that Kyle and I have raced each other hard for a victory like this.
“For us to come away and knock him off his sweep — he was trying to go for it — it’s bittersweet. I was rooting for him, but at the same time, this is for us.”
Johnson’s heretofore flawless run to a record fourth straight championship hit a major snag after a tap from David Reutimann in Turn 2 started Sam Hornish Jr. sliding up the track into Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
Johnson fought for control before spinning back into Hornish’s No. 77 Dodge and slamming into the inside wall. Johnson was off the track for an hour and eight minutes while his crew worked frantically to repair the car, which suffered heavy damage to the front and rear.
The No. 48 Chevy returned the track on Lap 115 and gained five positions through the attrition of other cars.
Johnson stayed in the car through the entire repair process.
“Just sat in the car, was thinking through what went on, how I could have done something different,” he said. “(I was) on the outside lane, driving by a couple cars, and I didn't really even see the 77 get loose. I got clobbered from the side. Around I went.
“I thought about those things sitting in the pits. Watched the guys, hoped that they could get the car fixed and on track. I could see the televisions, was watching the race. Just kind of paid attention to where the 5 (Martin) and 24 (polesitter Jeff Gordon, who finished 13th and trails Johnson by 112 points) were on track.”
“I guess after enough time sitting there, I finally calmed down some and caught my breath and relaxed. But the first 20, 30 minutes of that were pretty painful.”
Notes: Kurt Busch gained two positions to fourth in the standings and trails Johnson by 171 points. … Brad Keselowski was the victim of a Lap 175 crash and finished 35th in his debut in the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge. … Juan Pablo Montoya, who triggered that wreck in Turn 2, came home 37th and dropped two positions to sixth in points. … Busch made a $1 million winner of Michael McGee, the race sponsor’s American Worker of the Year. McGee picked Busch to win in a random drawing on Saturday.