Philadelphia, PA – Two weeks after being suspended for the Pocono race, Kurt Busch nearly pulled off an upset on the road course at Sonoma.
What's better, Busch's erratic behavior did not get the best of him this time.
Driving an unsponsored car, Busch put himself in contention to win Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma when he caught up with leader Clint Bowyer and then made several attempts to pass him in the closing laps. However, Busch clipped a tire barrier in the turn 11 area, which damaged the rear of his car and ultimately cost him a shot at winning this race for the second year in a row.
The second and last caution for an incident involving Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya setup a green-white-checkered finish. After the final restart, Bowyer pulled away from the field and cruised to his first road- course win, while Tony Stewart passed Busch for second on the final lap. Busch nursed his car to an impressive third-place finish.
"If we pulled it into victory lane with an all-red car and no sponsor, here in California, I thought it was Team Tiger Blood with Charlie Sheen around," Busch said jokingly.
Unlike the frequent outbursts we've seen from him in the past, Busch was overcome with emotion following his performance at this Northern California road course. In fact, the 2004 series champion revealed during several post- race interviews that he was "a little choked up."
"When you show up and you're on a third of the budget and you almost bring it to victory lane, you can't say that one guy does it out here," he said. "It takes a full team effort. But I really wanted to deliver for my guys (Sunday), and being that close and make one mistake, it's a tough game. That's why it's Sprint Cup."
Shortly after his dismissal from Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, Busch landed a ride with Phoenix Racing, which is an underfunded single-car team in Sprint Cup. He has a one-year verbal agreement with team owner James Finch to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet.
Busch almost lost his ride with Finch's team after NASCAR officials banned him from competing in the June 10 race at Pocono. Officials determined Busch violated his probation when he made threatening comments to a reporter from The Sporting News following the completion of the June 2 Nationwide Series event at Dover. He had been on probation for an incident that occurred with Ryan Newman's team last month at Darlington.
Hoping to put his previous troubles behind him, Busch earned a lot of respect from his fellow competitors at Sonoma.
"I don't know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car," Stewart said. "I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had."
After the race, Busch went to victory lane to congratulate Bowyer.
"Just to have him come to victory lane spoke volumes about his character," Bowyer said. "He's a champion of the sport. You can't lose sight of that. I know there's been a lot of negative around him, but he had a lot of positives today for Kurt Busch. He had an extremely good run. ... That boy can drive."
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Kurt Busch will continue to be a good driver. But the question is: Can he keep up the good behavior?