NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kurt Busch wins much-delayed race

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Kurt Busch, looking to sew up a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, scored his second dominating victory in three races Tuesday by winning the rain-plagued 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Busch, who thrashed the field at Pocono two weeks ago, took charge in the second half of a race that had finally got going after being rained out on Monday and Tuesday.

After emerging with the lead from a battle with Matt Kenseth just past the midway point of the race, Busch's No. 2 Dodge was clearly strong but still had to endure a lot of late-race drama to bring home the win.

First, there was a caution for debris on the track on Lap 176. Busch stayed on the track as did Jeff Gordon, while some of the other leaders came in for at least two tires.

When the green flew again, Busch used the clean air he got out front to balance any detriment of not having new tires, pulling away to lead again.

Gordon, however, didn't have as much luck. He lost second to Martin Truex Jr. and then, while sliding up the track in a loose car as he came out of Turn 4 on Lap 190, he spun after contact from Matt Kenseth into the muddy trivial to bring out another yellow.

That left Busch seven laps to fend off Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. He looked to be home free, but Greg Biffle spun on Lap 199 -- just in time to set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch got a good restart when the green flew, however, and held on to win for the 17th time in his career. Truex wound up second, with Johnson third, Kenseth fourth and Hamlin fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had run in the top five at some points in the race, made a mistake on pit road when he drove past his pit stall on a late green-flag stop. He finished 12th, and while he moved up from 14th to 13th in the standings he lost ground to Busch. With just three races left until the Chase cutoff, Earnhardt Jr. is now 163 points behind Busch.

Engines were fired on time for a start scheduled shortly after 10 a.m., but after 10 laps under the green and yellow flags, the cars were brought back to pit road and held up once more because of fog. The teams' spotters and NASCAR officials in the control tower could not see the backstretch because of poor visibility.

After a 32-minute delay, drivers were called back to their cars and -- finally -- at 11 a.m., the green flag flew.

Twelve laps had already been counted, and on the second lap under green Juan Pablo Montoya spun as he tried to work three wide in the low groove under Blaney's Toyota. The race -- after a delay of about 45 hours -- was finally under way.

Greg Biffle, who started on the outside of the front row, jumped to the lead when the green flag flew and stayed there until a planned "competition" caution on Lap 30 thrown by NASCAR so teams could check tire wear on the green race track.

Robby Gordon didn't make a pit stop, so he had the lead at the restart. It took less than a lap for pole-winner Jeff Gordon to zoom by to grab the lead.

Behind him, though, was the early story of the race. Brian Vickers had started 18th in his Toyota, but by Lap 37 he was all the way up to second. Vickers couldn't hold the No. 2 spot for long, however, as Johnson moved past him on Lap 40.

Johnson and Gordon, teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, each got his crew chief back this week after they'd served six-race suspensions.

On Lap 48, Johnson, with Chad Knaus back in his pits, moved to the lead past Gordon, who got Steve Letarte back. Gordon, who had changed only right-side tires on his stop under the competition yellow, also lost positions to Kenseth and Vickers, dropping to fourth by Lap 52.

Vickers, however, kept moving and by Lap 65 had the No. 83 Camry in the top spot.

Vickers and Kenseth swapped the lead on the next two laps as a round of green-flag pit stops began. When those stops were done, Kenseth had the lead over Kurt Busch and Vickers and kept it until a caution flew on Lap 88 for an oil leak with Mark Martin's No. 01 Chevrolet.

Kenseth, Busch, Vickers and Johnson came out in the top four spots after the leaders pitted under that yellow, with Hamlin fifth, Jeff Gordon sixth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh.

Earnhardt Jr. is trying to come from 100 points back to make it into the top 12 to qualify for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, but the guy he is chasing is Busch, and Busch was running second.

One lap after the restart, on Lap 94, Michael Waltrip spun his car and got clipped by Joe Nemechek before he could get it completely stopped.

The race restarted on Lap 99, and two laps later everyone in the sport breathed a sigh of relief as the race reached and passed the halfway point, making it an official event. No matter what else happened, it was certain that this would be the end of the long week.

On that same lap, Busch moved past Kenseth to take the lead for the first time and pick up five bonus points. Earnhardt Jr., who'd been forced to start at the rear of the field after changing transmissions, meanwhile was up to sixth.

Kenseth took the lead right back on Lap 104, with Gordon passing Johnson for third at the same time. Busch got the lead again on Lap 108, and Gordon later moved into second past Kenseth.

The race remained green until Lap 129 when the leaders began another round of green-flag pit stops. When Busch came in a lap later, Earnhardt Jr. took the lead to get his five bonus points.

Busch, Gordon and Stewart resumed the top three spots after the round of pit stops were complete.

As the race remained under the green, Busch pulled away to a lead of more than 5 seconds over Gordon as he tried to repeat a dominating performance in his win at Pocono two races ago.

The final round of pit stops began on Lap 164 with Vickers coming down pit road. Jeff Gordon, who'd been second, had to take extra time getting a fin on his car's back window put back into place. Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, slid through his pit box and had to back up before he got service, costing him time and positions on the track.

When the stops were done, Kurt Busch was about 5 seconds clear of Johnson with Hamlin, Kenseth and Kyle Busch behind him. Gordon was seventh and Earnhardt Jr. was eighth with just inside 30 laps remaining.

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