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Pit Strategy Propels Busch to Win at IRP

  • Aug 07, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 7, 2004) – Pit strategy proved to be the difference on Saturday night at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

After pitting for the final time on Lap 112, Kyle Busch held off a charging Johnny Sauter to win the 200-lap NASCAR Busch Series event at IRP.

“It was an awesome night for the entire Lowe’s/Shop-Vac team,” Busch said.  “These guys worked really hard to get us the win tonight.  We didn’t necessarily have the best car, but there’s no doubt I’ve got the best crew behind me.

“I’m very proud of the job everyone did tonight, and to have Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Ricky (Hendrick) here with us is pretty awesome.”

While Sauter led the most laps in Saturday’s race, he relinquished the lead to come in for fresh tires on Lap 131.  The lost track position proved costly, as Sauter had to then work his way through traffic to reach the frontrunners.

Greg Biffle inherited the lead from Sauter, but when Biffle pitted on Lap 156, Busch took over the top spot for the final 44 laps.

With 20 laps remaining, Sauter was back up to second position and seemed to be closing the gap on Busch’s No. 5 Lowe’s/Shop-Vac Chevrolet.  But even on much older tires, Busch managed to expand his lead slightly over the final 10 laps, crossing the finish line .896 seconds ahead of Sauter.

When asked about the decision to pit earlier than the other frontrunners, Busch said, “We came in and got our tires and I thought that was a little bit too soon.  That’s why I was hesitant to come in, but I wasn’t worried about it.  I figured there’d be some cautions in there and maybe we’d have a long run where we’d be able to get up front a little bit and the other guys would come in and get stuck and mired back in traffic so they weren’t able to come back up there.”

Before the start of Saturday’s race, Team Lowe’s Racing crew chief Lance McGrew gave his driver some advice that proved useful in the closing laps.  As the two talked in the team transporter, McGrew told Busch to “not look back, just focus on what’s ahead of you.”

While McGrew intended the remark as a way to help his driver concentrate on the remainder of the 2004 race season, the veteran crew chief’s advice also proved to useful Saturday night.

“I kept watching my mirror, seeing (Sauter) get closer and closer and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know how I’m going to hold him off,’” Busch said.  “So then I just started looking ahead of me and not worrying about the mirror.  That’s what fixed it right there was not worrying about him, just worrying about my own car and how to get around the race track better.”

After completing his celebratory burnout and finishing his Victory Lane interviews, Busch and his crew headed for the track’s frontstretch.  There, the team borrowed a tradition from those who have won at “the big track,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and knelt to kiss the checkered flag paint scheme that adorns the start-finish line at IRP.

“Howard Shipwash, our motor tuner, was like, ‘Hey, you know what?  We ought to start our own tradition here at IRP,’” Busch said.  “’They get to kiss the bricks over at the big track so let’s kiss the start-finish line here.’  And I thought it was pretty cool.  And so did Rick (Hendrick).  He was jumping on the opportunity to go do it.”

The win marks the fourth victory of the 2004 season for the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports crew, and the second year in a row the team has won at IRP.  In fact, the car Busch drove to the win on Saturday night is the exact same chassis Brian Vickers won with in 2003.

The Team Lowe’s Racing crew, which now has nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes this season, also managed to gain ground in the Busch Series championship standings.  With 11 races remaining, Busch sits just 117 points back of Martin Truex Jr.

Busch was named the Raybestos Rookie of the Race for the 16th time in 22 events this season, and continues to expand his lead in the running for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.

Busch is just the second rookie to win at IRP in the 23-year history of the event.  In 2000, Ron Hornaday became the first rookie to claim a Busch Series win at the fabled short track.

After a weekend off, the Busch Series returns to action Aug. 21 at Michigan International Speedway.  The 250-mile event will air live from MIS on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 1 p.m. ET on TNT and MRN Radio affiliates.

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