Kurt Buschs 2011 season ledger remains unblemished. Busch drove his No. 22 Pennzoil/Shell Dodge Charger to victory in Thursdays first Gatorade Duel (60-lap, 150-mile) at Daytona International Speedway.
Just as in his win in the Budweiser Shootout under the lights Saturday night, Busch had help from a drafting partner. This time it was Regan Smith. The two paired up early and stayed together the entire race, swapping positions occasionally to keep their racing machines from overheating.
The strategy worked to perfection. Busch led five times for seven laps including the final two as the race was extended beyond the scheduled distance for a green-white-checkered finish.
Busch came into Speedweeks looking to break into the win column in a restrictor plate race. Now, within a week, hes visited the Daytona victory lane twice.
This is sweet, said Busch. It was just an overall team effort to get this victory. To have Shell/Pennzoil on board and start this strong with the double-deuce Dodge, Im beside myself.
You can’t be in this position if you don’t have a great race car. My guys have put together an awesome Dodge for me. The cars we brought down here, all of them have great strength to them. The engine department knows they’re going to bring us even more for Sunday’s race. So I’m really excited. Again, I can’t get too far ahead of myself because this is Daytona and this place can jump up and bite you pretty quick. But we are going to ride this wave.
Smith was impressed with his drafting partner and the performance of the No. 22 Dodge. Kurt and I worked well all day and we had good cars hooked up together, said Smith. He worked with me down here last week and taught me the switch and everything like that. I hope we can find each other and do the same thing on Sunday. We work well together. We had two cars that hooked up well together, and we had two spotters working real hard together.
Crew Chief Steve Addington says the Daytona experience to this point has been awesome, but a lot of work went into the success and the job isnt finished.
I think it goes back to what went on over the winter, this group of guys that come to the race track every week. They’re a great support group. They work really hard. They do anything that I ask of them without any bickering or anything else. They just get in there, keep their heads down and dig. That’s the kind of group of guys that you need to go to the race track with every week. Im really proud of them. Theyve taken it to the next step and did some extra things that I asked of them. No complaining, so I’m really proud of that group of guys.
In the second Duel, Brad Keselowski ran into trouble on lap 41 when he was bumped in the draft and his car went sliding down to the apron of the track and through the grass. His car received no major damage and with a quick pit stop for tires, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was back on the track.
Over the final 16 laps, he proceeded to author The Story of Speedweeks. He lined up behind his brother Brian for the restart and proceeded to push him into the Daytona 500. The older Keselowski was one of 12 drivers battling for one of the eight Daytona 500 berths available to those drivers not in the top 35. Brian finished fifth in the No. 92 K-Automotive Dodge and Brad was seventh in the No. 2 Dodge.
What a day, said Brad. I pushed my brother into the Daytona 500. Thats pretty cool. It feels good for him. We really wanted to win, but it was nice to do that with Brian. Our objective is always to win, but we just werent there today. We got a solid run out of it. We just have to keep working on it. Im excited to finally get the chance to work with my teammate (Busch) on Sunday. I think that we can do some good things together.
Brian had plenty of credit for his brother. We wouldnt have even made it here if it wasnt for him, he said. When he had the accident, Im not really sure what happened, but it put him back there with us. He got behind me and started to push. A couple of times, the caution came out and we could line up (together). We worked together trying to get a hole. He jacked me sideways a couple of times, but thats just the two-car draft. Thats how it goes. You cant lift. You cant stop for the guy in front of you or you are going to get wrecked by the guy behind you. I owe everything to everybody, Ernie Elliott for helping me with the motors, Dodge for helping us on the car. Its hard to believe, were in the Daytona 500.
Robby Gordon finished 19th in the second Duel. “The strangest style of racing I’ve been involved with in a long time. We bump drafted so hard, we dented in the left rear quarter panel. It’s tough. If you don’t have a drafting partner, you’re left out there on your own. Our SPEED Energy Dodge was pretty good. We just need to take it back to the shop, fix ‘er up and get ready for the 500.”
Busch will start third in Sundays race, Bryan Keselowski 12th, Brad Keselowski 16th and Gordon 30th.