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Friday, February 27, 2009

Kurt Busch back from the dead

Last year, if I told you a driver named Busch had done well on Sunday, you knew who I was talking about.
In 2009, you may have to ask which brother I’m talking about.

Kurt Busch, the driver who was booed by NASCAR fans long before his younger brother Kyle, is a former Cup champion who had fallen back into mediocrity in the past few years. During his time at Roush Racing, the elder Busch was a force to be reckoned with on the track, but since he moved to Penske Racing the highlights have been less common.

In 2008, his only real highlight after a second-place Daytona 500 finish was a win in a rain-shortened New Hampshire race.

But that was then, and this is now. Going into 2009, everyone wondered whether the Dodges would be able to battle their way back to respectability and earn at least one Chase spot this season. So far, it looks like Busch is the best bet for that to happen. Both the Penske and Petty cars are doing better than many people predicted, but Penske is using the new Dodge engine while Petty is not. It appears to be doing something to help, as Kurt is tied with Tony Stewart for third in the point standings after two races.

With his second-place qualifying effort at Las Vegas, Kurt served notice that he’s not looking to repeat his disappearing act of 2008, and actually stick around to fight for something this year. The elder Busch, who is perhaps most famous for once getting punched in the face by Jimmy Spencer at Michigan Speedway, is looking to inflict some damage of his own on the competition.

So while Kyle, with his endless winning in all three major series and discussions of future Formula 1 competition, will still be the most talked-about Busch brother this year and beyond, don’t forget about big brother. The man who in 2004 beat Jimmie Johnson by 8 points for the championship appears to have gotten his groove back in 2009.

Thrills for some, heartbreak for others after qualifying
With 51 cars on the entry list, a lot of driver were going to go home disappointed on Friday. And on the flip side, some new faces were likely to appear in 2009.

Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski qualified for the race in a #25 Hendrick Motorsports car, his first Cup start of the season. Todd Bodine qualified the #64 Gunselman Motorsports car for the first time this year, by only 8 thousandths of a second. And part-timer and road course specialist Max Papis had an impressive run to make his first start of the year.

Meanwhile, several teams that had been success stories through two races ran into a wall Friday in Vegas. Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Scott Riggs never found any speed. Jeremy Mayfield barely made it out in time to qualify, and was slow when he finally made his attempt. Dave Blaney failed to qualify the #66, and an already struggling #28 Yates Racing team took a hit when Travis Kvapil lost the final spot to Bodine by the .008 seconds margin.

With so many smaller teams trying out in 2009, look for this kind of excitement on pole day throughout the year. As today proved, thousandths of a second count.


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