Busch Scores Runner-Up Finish at Atlanta
- Oct 30, 2004
HAMPTON, Ga. (Oct. 30, 2004) – When the checkered flag was displayed, no one doubted that Kyle Busch had given his all to try and win Saturday’s NASCAR Busch Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Following a red-flag period late in the event, fans watched Busch push his No. 5 Lowe’s/Pella Windows Chevrolet to its limits while trying to pass the No. 17 car of Matt Kenseth in a two-lap sprint to the finish.
In the end, Kenseth was able to hold off Busch’s charge, and the Team Lowe’s Racing crew claimed the runner-up spot.
While other teams might have been satisfied finishing second to a NASCAR champion, on what was an emotional day for everyone associated with Hendrick Motorsports, anything short of a victory was disappointing.
“That’s all I had,” Busch said. “I couldn’t really give (Kenseth) any more. I didn’t say it on TV, but my heart and prayers go out to the Hendrick family. I tried the best I could.”
Just as Busch crossed the finish line, crew chief Lance McGrew’s voice came over the team radio, telling his driver and crew that he had never been prouder of them.
Starting the race from the fourth position, Busch had taken over the race lead by Lap 11. A loose-handling condition dropped Busch back to fourth by Lap 22, and he remained in the top-five until pitting for the first time around Lap 64.
After the crew made chassis and air-pressure adjustments to Busch’s machine and sent him back on the track, Busch never dropped out of the top-10. Retaking the lead following a Lap 141 restart, Busch remained on point until he discovered that his car had a tight-handling condition.
“I was actually surprised that the track was as loose as it was,” McGrew said. “I was actually expecting it to be a lot tighter, just from listening from some of the Cup guys and some of the things they fought during practice compared to yesterday. I was really expecting the track to be a lot tighter that it was.
“We struggled with a little bit of a loose race car for the biggest part of the day and then we kind of teetered back and forth on tight and loose. It was like trying to balance on the head of a pin all day long.”
After the race, McGrew was asked if late caution periods that slowed the field three times in the final 24 laps might have played a part in Busch being unable to pass Kenseth.
“Really, if we had a shot to beat (Kenseth), (the circumstances) couldn’t have (gone) any better,” McGrew said. “Our car was really good on the long runs, but I really think that if it had been anybody else but Matt Kenseth in the (No.) 17 car, we would have won the race today, but his car was really good on a short run like ours was. It was just a little too much for us there at the end.”
While Busch agreed with his crew chief, he felt the final caution flag that came out on Lap 201 didn’t help the team’s chances.
“I think that last caution hurt us a little bit because my car wouldn’t really get off on the restarts,” Busch said. “I’d just spin the tires and he’d pull away from me a little bit, but if I could just get up underneath his rear bumper, I probably could have just loosened him up with air, but I just couldn’t quite get there.
“It’s just real difficult. I thought I had one more shot at getting him there before that last caution came out.”
On his way to posting a second-place finish in only his second Busch Series start at Atlanta, Busch explored what had been uncharted territory for him—the high groove around the 1.54-mile facility.
“We were real loose to start the race and we just kind of worked on it,” Busch said. “We stayed within the top-five and I was able to find the high groove. That’s what you need to do around this place. Yesterday I tried it and I was scared of it. I was able to go up there today and pretty much ran up there all day. We were able to save our tires and stuff running up there against the wall.
“I came into a real good rhythm. Our car would really run good in the beginning there. I could pass cars and then we’d fall off toward the middle of the run and then we could come back and run them back down there at the end again. We just didn’t have quite enough to get by the (No.) 17.”
The second-place result marked the 14th top-five finish and the 20th top-10 finish of the season for Busch and his crew. One more top-10 finish and Busch will join Greg Biffle as the only Raybestos Rookies to score 21 top-10 finishes in a single Busch Series season.
Busch’s strong run allowed him to gain ground on Martin Truex Jr., who finished ninth in Saturday’s race, in the running for the 2004 Busch Series championship. Busch and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team now sit 176 points out of the lead with three races remaining.
Next stop for the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team is a visit west to Phoenix International Raceway. The 32nd race of the 2004 Busch Series season will air live from on NBC and MRN Radio affiliates on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET.