Kurt Busch wins Coca-Cola 600 to sweep Charlotte
Two of the top team owners in American motorsports collected wins Sunday — one of the most storied days in auto racing — when Penske driver Kurt Busch denied Ganassi a Memorial Day weekend sweep by beating Jamie McMurray.
"My old buddy Penske beat me tonight," a smiling Ganassi said after settling for second in the Coca-Cola 600.
Earlier Sunday, Ganassi became the first owner to win both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season when Dario Franchitti won the open-wheel race. After the post-race pageantry, Ganassi hopped a flight to North Carolina to catch the second half of NASCAR's longest race of the season.
He arrived just in time to see McMurray, the Daytona 500 winner, begin a charge toward the front and give Ganassi a chance at winning the two prestigious races. Penske, whose highest finishing driver in Indy was eighth, didn't make the trip and watched the NASCAR race on television.
The owners were treated to a 19-lap sprint to the finish in which McMurray simply ran out of time to catch Busch, who swept the May races at Charlotte. Busch last weekend won the $1 million All-Star race.
"The first person I think about is Roger Penske," Busch said. "To win the 600 and All-Star back to back, this is something that will be front and center in Roger's NASCAR trophy case. I was happy to deliver."
Busch, who led 252 of the 400 laps, and McMurray were the class of the field late Sunday night and it was McMurray who held a healthy lead as the laps wound down. But a late caution for a Marcos Ambrose crash with 24 laps made it a crapshoot.
McMurray led most of the leaders down pit road, but was beaten back onto the track by Busch and Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon was the first of three cars not to pit, and restarted as the leader with 19 laps remaining.
Busch blew past the three lead cars and steadily pulled away from the pack. McMurray, in a Chevrolet, quickly moved into second, but ran out of time to run down Busch, who won in a Dodge.
"I don't know about the last stop, I think we didn't have a great stop," McMurray said. "It just wasn't perfect. I knew whoever came out ahead on that last pit stop between Kurt and I, if somebody didn't screw up, that would be the race winner."
Kyle Busch rallied from a mid-race crash on pit road to finish third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Mark Martin finished fourth — the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports car — and defending race winner David Reutimann was fifth for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Gordon wound up sixth and was followed by Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard, who had the highest finishing Ford. Ryan Newman and Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
While Kurt Busch celebrated in Victory Lane, his younger brother was getting an earful on pit road from a furious Jeff Burton.
Burton was eighth on the final restart, running right next to Kyle Busch, when contact between the two cars ruined any chance for a solid finish for Burton. He faded to 25th and angrily confronted Busch after the race.
"Kyle made it three-wide on the restart, trying to make something happen, which I don't have a problem with," Burton said. "So he runs into me and cuts my left-rear tire, then I have a problem with it. He's real aggressive. That's cool. But when he starts affecting me with his aggressiveness, I just will not put up with it. I've been around here long enough. I just will not tolerate it."
It soured yet another stellar comeback for Kyle Busch, who rallied from two laps down on Saturday to win the Nationwide Series race.
On Sunday, he was the leader when a bizarre sequence of events on Lap 167 changed the entire race.
Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was running fourth when he inexplicably hit the wall, and Denny Hamlin, running fifth, had to weave low through the grass to avoid hitting Johnson. Both cars suffered considerable damage and NASCAR called for a caution that sent everyone to pit road.
Kyle Busch, at the time the strongest car in the race, ran into Brad Keselowski on pit road to damage his car. Even worse, NASCAR flagged him for speeding and he was forced to also serve a penalty.
It dropped Kyle Busch all the way back to 26th in a race he maybe could have won.
He thought Burton's lecture was directed at the wrong driver — Busch said it was Bowyer, not him, who made it three-wide with Burton on the restart — but still seemed pleased with the final outcome.
"These are the nights that championships are made of," Kyle Busch said. "I'm not dissatisfied at all that we didn't win."
Johnson, meanwhile, wrecked a second time later in the race to finish a surprising 37th. It was Johnson's fifth consecutive double-digit finish — he's not been inside the top-10 since he was second at Texas in April.
"We've been through ups and downs," Johnson said. "Everyone else is overreacting and saying we're in some type of slump. Tonight, we just had some back luck and I made a mistake. (Stuff) happens."
Last updated: 1:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012