Five races into the 2012 season, Kurt Busch and his new team, Phoenix Racing, collaborated on their first top-10 finish – albeit a rain-shortened one – in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Busch started 23rd in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet and worked diligently with crew chief Nick Harrison through three consecutive rounds of green-flag pit stops to make handling improvements. Those changes enabled Busch to climb steadily toward the front of the field while awaiting the arrival of foul weather that had been predicted all weekend.
When rain started to fall, bringing out the first caution of the day on lap 125, Busch had worked his way into the top-15. Then, opting to stay on track while several cars ahead of him decided to pit during the yellow, Busch climbed to ninth when the race was red-flagged on lap 129. NASCAR officials called the race shortly thereafter as rain intensified.
“It was a nice, solid finish at the end of the day for our Phoenix Racing Chevrolet,” said Busch, who won the 2003 Sprint Cup event at Fontana. “Rewinding through the race, we were just tight to start the race, we were tight to finish practice, so the adjustments we made overnight didn’t fall in the right place. But we made great adjustments throughout the day. I put the car right up in the high groove by the wall and made a lot of good time up. When we were 10 laps in, I think we were 35th and then just chiseled it away one car at a time. We were back to 23rd, where we started, about 25 to 30 laps into the race and just kept chiseling away, chiseling away. We were running on the lead lap and we were 15th, and it was a day where we probably could’ve gotten to 10th if we raced them hard and smart, and we ended up with ninth when the rain came out.”
The ninth-place finish was the best of the season for Busch and Phoenix Racing, their previous best 15th last month at Phoenix International Raceway. It also marked Busch’s ninth top-10 finish in 19 career starts at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval.
“This just goes to show what results when you are smart all day,” he said. “The car’s going back onto the trailer without a scratch on it, with a top-10 finish. That’s a first for us this year, and good adjustments were the key. We did that two of our three stops. If we would’ve had more stops today, I know we could’ve gotten the car even better. So it’s just a learning curve about things this team knows about this car that I don’t, and things I know that the team doesn’t know, and all of us working together. It was a nice solid day, and everybody is pumped about this finish. We moved up nicely in the points. We thought Vegas could’ve been a nice solid top-10. Daytona, of course, was a disaster. Phoenix, we finished 15th. Every time we’ve finished, we’ve been in the top-15, top-18, so this is a nice, solid step forward for us.”
Tony Stewart won the rain-shortened Auto Club 400. It was his second victory and second top-10 result of 2012, and his second victory and 12th top-10 in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2-mile oval.
Finishing behind Stewart was Kyle Busch in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Seven drivers failed to finish the 129-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Busch moved up four spots in the championship point standings. He sits in 23rd with 105 points, 90 behind series leader Biffle.