Kurt Busch saves fuel for first win of the season at Pocono

Jun 6, 2016; Long Pond, PA, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) races during the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 at Pocono Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) races during the Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono Raceway. Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt Busch has put together a quietly spectacular season, but hasn’t had a win to show for his efforts. That all changed on Monday after leading 32 laps while saving fuel to capture his first victory and clinch a Chase berth for the 2016 season.

The race, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, was postponed a day because of rain and dense fog at the track.

Interestingly enough, the win came after Busch lost his crew chief Tony Gibson to a one-race suspension for a lug nut issues the previous weekend at Charlotte. The win came with interim crew chief, John Klausmeier, atop the pit box.

“This is a wonderful win for us,” Busch said. “We have been so close all year. It’s a matter of just putting it all together — pit crew, engine. Thanks to Hendrick engines and Chevrolet and everybody that works on these bodies, the chassis, you name it. …

“It’s special anytime you win. For Tony Gibson to be out this week because of a lug nut issue, we had to overcome a lot. Johnny Klausmeier, our interim crew chief, our lead engineer — he stepped up, and when you do that, it makes you really feel about that team camaraderie, that team chemistry and that team effort.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second followed by Brad Keselowski in third, Chase Elliott fourth, and Joey Logano in fifth. The first laps of the race were led by either Busch or Earnhardt before things got interesting during a restart melee on Lap 122 when Jimmie Johnson got into the wall.

When the race returned to green, Earnhardt was in the lead, while Busch restarted fourth. Busch took second from Chase Elliott and then got by Earnhardt to take the top spot almost immediately.

“I should have been able to hold that No. 41 (Busch) off on that final restart,” Earnhardt said. “Me and the No. 24 were racing pretty hard, and it gave the No. 41 the opportunity to get a run on us.

“I should have been able to defend that a little bit better. If I could have got in front of him, I don’t think he would have got by us. The car wasn’t all we hoped it would be, but it was good. They worked on it and improved it.”

Elliott led a race-high 51 laps after taking the top spot from Matt Kenseth on a restart that followed the fourth caution of the race that came out on lap 59. The Hendrick Motorsports driver looked strong the entire afternoon, but couldn’t quite catch Busch in the final laps, finishing

“I’m just really proud of the car we had today,” Elliott said. “What a fast NAPA Chevy and had a car that could compete for the lead all day. There were definitely times we were better than others.

“I wish once we had taken a couple of those green flags after the cautions, we could have got going and ran some laps. That is not how the day unfolded, so we will take it and move on.”

Reuters contributed to this report.


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