Heading into Sunday’s Chase elimination race at Phoenix International Raceway 28 points behind the fourth-place cutoff, Kurt Busch needed a win to advance to the championship battle next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
However, when rain hit the track late Sunday night, NASCAR declared the race official after 219 laps with Busch in the seventh spot, not where he needed to be to advance to the Championship 4.
Throughout the weekend, the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet did everything he needed to do to prove he had what it took to win the race and advance to the title fight at Homestead. Busch was fastest in Saturday’s two practice sessions and qualified on the outside of the front row.
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"I don’t even think it was a penalty."
- Kurt Busch on being black flagged for beating pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson to the start-finish line on the initial start of the race.
Yet, Busch’s night got off to a rough start at the drop of the green flag when he beat pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson to the start-finish line on the initial start of the race, a violation of the NASCAR rule book. As a result, Busch was black flagged and forced to serve a pass-through penalty on pit road on Lap 8 of the race.
"I don’t even think it was a penalty," Busch said after the race. "It’s not even a call in my mind."
Busch remained on the lead lap, stayed calm on the team radio and focused his attention on using his fast Tony Gibson-prepared Chevrolet to climb back through the field.
The 2004 Sprint Cup champion did just that. With one of the fastest cars in the field, Busch eventually worked his way back into the top 10 and was sitting seventh on the field when rain hit the 1-mile track located in the heart of the Arizona desert.
When NASCAR called the race and declared Hendrick Motorsports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. the winner, Busch was still seventh, not enough to advance.
Missing the first three races of the season while serving a suspension for an alleged domestic abuse situation, Busch returned to the car for the fourth race of the season at Phoenix in March.
He immediately proved he was a force to be reckoned with, earning his first win of the season in April at Richmond International Raceway and backing that up with another victory in June at Michigan International Speedway.
Using consistent runs to advance his way through the first two rounds of the Chase format, a late-race incident at Martinsville Speedway with Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth resulted in a 34th-place finish to open the Eliminator Round. Despite back-to-back finishes of seventh at Texas Motor Speedway and Sunday night in Phoenix, Busch will not advance to the title fight at Homestead.
Although he will be unable to compete for the championship next weekend, Busch is pleased with what his team has been able to accomplish this season.
"We had a great season. We won two races, sat on three poles," he said. "We did everything possible to put polish on a season like that and get out there with elbow grease and work hard at it. There is some tarnish that is sitting there, polish and polish and that is all I kept doing this whole year."