Busch Best At Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. - Kurt Busch turned in a performance worthy of the defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Sunday, leading 131 of the 203 laps in dominating the Pennsylvania 500 before a packed house at Pocono Raceway.

Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin both led in the late going in what might be their final start on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, but Busch bounced back from a pit miscue, passed Wallace for the lead with 17 laps remaining, and then prevailed in three shootouts after a trio of cautions slowed the final 10 laps.

Busch, driving the No. 97 Irwin Industrial Tools Ford, finally pulled away on a final restart during an attempted green-white-checker finish before the 13th caution of the day clinched the victory.

Wallace held off Martin for second, followed by Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.

Busch prevailed on a restart with seven laps remaining after an incident involving Mike Wallace. Then, Greg Biffle cut a tire and put Mike Waltrip into the Turn 1 wall three laps later. That set up a three-lap sprint to the checkered flag, but Waltrip lost control of his battered Chevrolet. Once again, Busch left no doubt who had the dominant car, while Kasey Kahne hit the wall while attempting to take fourth from Edwards – leading to the final caution of the day.

"This is what we needed to do to get back on track," said Busch after his second victory of the season. "It was a dominant win, something we don;'t do all that often."

"The only thing I could have done was run him down into Turn 1 and hit him – and I'm not that kind of driver," Wallace said.

After dominating the opening 300 miles, Busch fell back to eighth after a loose lug nut on a pit stop under caution on lap 123. It took him nearly 150 miles to get back into contention before getting by Wallace twice in the waning laps.
"It didn't look like we could pass many cars once we were shuffled back, but I thought we could do it," Busch said. "We stuck to our game plan. It was only a matter of time."

While Busch was working his way back, Martin and Wallace dominated the action. Martin passed teammate Greg Biffle to take the point on lap 139, while Wallace took over when he gambled by taking two tires under caution on lap 165.

Busch needed to pass Wallace twice to go ahead to stay. He was in the process of taking the lead when a caution negated a pass on lap 177. Following the restart, Busch needed two laps before beating Wallace to Turn 2 to regain the point.

Busch passed pole-sitter Jamie McMurray at the drop of the green flag and was never headed. While several other drivers – including P.J. Jones, Mike Wallace and Joe Nemechek – managed to hold the lead when Busch pitted, Busch never needed more than a few laps to regain the point during the opening 300 miles.

Tenth in the NEXTEL Cup Series point chase two weeks ago, Busch leapfrogged to fifth following a second-place finish last weekend at New Hampshire. While he remains in fifth with only six races remaining before the 10-lap Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup shootout, he has narrowed the gap to 262 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson – who rallied from a lap down to place 12th. Stewart took second from Biffle, with Wallace in fourth and Martin in seventh.

Debris brought out many of the 13 cautions. While 18 NEXTEL Cup drivers cut 22 tires here one month ago, only a few drivers suffered right-front failures similar to those encountered in June. More common was exploding brake rotors that led to several of the debris cautions.

After three strong runs – including a victory at Chicagoland – that seemed to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in the title hunt, the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet struggled all weekend. Earnhardt Jr. started 38th and was never in contention. He was caught a lap down following a green flag pit stop, and lost another lap when he was called for speeding trying to beat the pace car out of the pits. He finished 32nd, and fell to 14th in the point standings, 537 behind Busch and 90 behind 10th-place runner Dale Jarrett. Also continuing to struggle was Jeff Gordon, who finished 13th after losing a lap early in the race while pitting under green. Gordon is 15th in the points, four behind Earnhardt Jr.

The NEXTEL Cup Series now takes its final weekend off of the season, preparing for the August 7 running of the Allstate 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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