CUP: Kyle Busch Carries Bad Car To First Top-10

Kyle Busch wasn’t a fan of NASCAR’s new car when it was introduced at Bristol Motor Speedway three years ago, but he won three of the six Sprint Cup races at the track from 2007-2009 including both races last season.

He wasn’t a fan of his own car in the Food City 500 on Sunday.

A new tire combination – the one used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year – required a different setup and for a Joe Gibbs Racing team that won both races a year ago, they opted to begin the Bristol weekend with the setup from 2009.

That made it a long weekend. Busch was awful Friday, qualified 38th and was never in the top 20 in practices. The No. 18 Toyota was a mid-pack car until Busch wrecked on lap 264 after blowing a right front tire – an accident he blamed on having to brake too much because the car was too loose.

He knocked the toe out of the car but his team fixed it without losing a lap, and he was able to rally and finish ninth by using pit strategy and staying out of trouble.

“It just wasn’t the kind of car we wanted to bring back here to Bristol,” Busch said. “We just worked from behind all weekend long. The right front went down and I got into the wall there in about the middle of the race and things didn’t look good. The guys never gave up and I never gave up and somehow we got a decent finish out of it.”

It was the first top-10 finish of the season for Busch, who moved up five spots in points to 10th.

“We want to run better, but you need to make the bad days the best you can if you want to make the Chase and have a shot at a championship,” Busch said. “We did what we needed to do today.”

But maybe the team didn’t do everything it needed to do the entire weekend. Crew chief Dave Rogers, who replaced Steve Addington with three races left in the 2009 season, said he is still learning the car.

“I came here with last year’s setup,” Rogers said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Steve Addington. He’s a brilliant crew chief. He’s a good friend of mine and a very intelligent guy.

“I by no means came here and said I was going to outsmart Steve Addington. He won the last two races here. I set my ego aside and put his setup in here and it just didn’t work with this tire.”

It was difficult for Busch to get a comfortable balance on the car. Rogers said the data indicated the car probably should have had a tighter setup than in the past. He said he has focused on the intermediate tracks and hadn’t focused on a Bristol setup.

“We’ve had a couple of top-10 cars this year and we didn’t get those finishes,” Rogers said. “Now we probably didn’t have a top-10 car and we got a top-10 finish. It was definitely a positive thing for us.

“But we have some work to do. We know we’re trying to build this program. … To come out of here with our first top-10 of the year, we’ll take it.”

Rogers also is learning Busch, who at one point sounded defeated on the radio after the accident when he said, “It’s done,” and telling the team the car was awful in a little bit harsher language.

At the time, Rogers didn’t think his driver was defeated.

“Kyle Busch has been outstanding to work with this year,” Rogers said. “I can’t tell you how great a driver and how mentally tough he’s been this year. So when he made that comment today, I thought the car was done.

“He hasn’t given up on me this year.”•Third-place finish equals bitter defeat for Kurt Busch