Kurt Busch wins rain-shortened New Hampshire race

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE (TICKER) —Heavy rain did not dampen Kurt Busch’s day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch captured his first checkered flag of the season Sunday, winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

It was the 18th career victory and the first since last August 21 for Busch, who ended a drought of 29 consecutive starts without a visit to Victory Lane.

After staying within the top 20 for the majority of a race dominated by Tony Stewart, Busch made a crucial decision on lap 271, when his Penske Racing team opted to keep his Dodge out on the track while the leaders pitted during a caution.

“These guys made an awesome call,” Busch said. “Sometimes you just don’t win them the right way, I think we can honestly say that. But we had a lot of work and a lot of effort put in today, and we’ll take it.”

With dark skies and an imminent thunderstorm looming in the near future, Busch was still out in front on lap 280 when Sam Hornish Jr. sent Clint Bowyer into the wall, prompting the race’s seventh caution.

The sky opened up five laps later, soaking the 1.058-mile oval and prompting NASCAR officials to red-flag the race.

After a nine-minute delay, the race was called due to the torrential downpour and lightning, giving Busch his first Cup victory since last year’s 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” said Busch, who took home a first prize of $204,950. “We were on more of a fuel strategy. We might not have been the fastest car but the record books will show that we won.”

The rain-soaked finish certainly yielded strange results in the record books, as Michael Waltrip placed second in a Toyota, securing his best finish since April 2005 at Phoenix.

It was the first top-five finish in 76 starts for Waltrip, whose previous best performance was a 23rd-place finish two weeks ago at Michigan.

Another beneficiary of the weather was J.J. Yeley, who placed third in a Chevrolet after finishing no better than 24th this year. Martin Truex Jr. ran fourth in a Chevy while Elliot Sadler rounded out the top five in a Dodge.

Despite leading for 132 laps, Stewart placed 13th in a Chevy to endure yet another disappointment in what has been a trying season for the two-time series champion.

Stewart, who reportedly will leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this season, saw his winless drought extend to 31 consecutive races. He has come up empty this year despite having numerous chances to win - especially at Charlotte last month, when he was slowed by a flat tire with four laps left.

“It had been just the oddest year I have ever seen for this race team,” Stewart said. “It’s just frustrating. If there was something we could about it, we’d change it.”

Stewart’s tough luck continued Sunday, as a three-car crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan and Jamie McMurray forced a caution.

Stewart and the rest of the front-runners, including Jimmie Johnson, pitted under the yellow flag while Busch and a small group of cars stayed out on the track. The decision to pit proved disastrous for Stewart, who has not won since last August 12 at Watkins Glen.

“None of the results this year is due to lack of effort,” he said. “There’s a percentage in this industry that’s called luck and there’s nothing we can do is change it.

“You have to have some (luck) on your side, and we just haven’t had it this year.”

Busch did not shed any tears for Stewart, claiming that he certainly has had his run of bad luck over the last year.

“I’ve been on the flip side of it plenty of times,” Busch said. “There’s those times when you just grit your teeth and go, ‘What could we have done different? Why did it happen this way?’ So it isn’t pretty, but we’ll take it.

“Sometimes the guys that have fast race cars don’t win because they got outdueled in the pits with pit strategy. You take them when you can get them because you get burned plenty of times the other way.”

Aside from the thunder and lightning, the end of the race featured some fireworks between Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya, who slammed into the series points leader during the final caution period.

The irritable Busch finished 25th while the often controversial Montoya placed 32nd.

“I don’t appreciate it when people race me like that,” Montoya said. “There’s a fine line, and he crossed it.”

Busch, who owns a 64-point lead atop the series standings, did not have any idea why Montoya bumped him.

“I don’t know what his beef is,” Busch said.

Reed Sorenson, Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Bobby Labonte completed the top 10 in a race which featured nine lead changes among eight drivers.

Jeff Gordon placed 11th while Jeff Burton finished 12th to gain ground on Busch in the standings. Despite running 24th, Earnhardt remained third in the standings with 2,352 overall points - 144 behind Busch.

Canadian rookie Patrick Carpentier, who started from the pole for the first time in his Cup career, struggled to a 31st-place performance after finishing two laps off the lead.

After leading for the first four laps, Carpentier was overtaken by Kevin Harvick and fell out of the top five after lap 20. The Quebec native was down as far as 31st by lap 119.

Carpentier said brake failure ruined his promising start.

“We just lost the brakes. We were running really well,” he said. “I was really happy. We had really good power. The pedal went soft and that was it. Most of the race, we had no brakes.”

Carpentier, who has spent the majority of his racing career in open-wheel circuits, was making just his 17th Cup start.

“At the end, it (pedal) was all the way to the floor, just bouncing up a little bit,” Carpentier said. “I was lifting before start-finish and coasting. It’s too bad.”


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Updated Sunday, Jun 29, 2008