The fate of both Dodge drivers in the annual Sprint All-Star Race was decided early Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski had problems in the first 25 laps of the 100-lap event run in four segments, creating a deficit they could not overcome.
Keselowski had to earn his way into the All-Star field and did so by finishing second in the 40-lap Sprint Showdown. Busch was making his 10th consecutive start in the spectacle.
Busch started 16th in the 21-car field in his Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger. His car was fast for three or four laps and then started dropping off. By lap 10, Busch had his hands full just keeping his car off the wall. Add in a pit road penalty during the mandatory pit stop on lap 25 which required a drive through penalty and the No. 22 was a lap down.
We just have to get our cars turning better in the corners, said Busch, winner of the All-Star event and the $1 million payday last year. It was a situation where our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge was a real rocketship for the first three laps of a run, fast and a little on the loose side. Then, wed be pretty good for three laps. Then the handling would go away; it would just go way too tight.
Busch got the free pass at the end of the first session and managed to work his way into the top 10 in both the second and third segment, but by the end of the 20 laps in each, the handling would go away.
We got the lucky dog after going a lap down in the first segment and that helped keep us in the game, he said. Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys threw everything they could at it. When you have to go five rounds on a wedge adjustment like we did that made very little difference, you know youre in trouble.
If we could have been up there in fifth or sixth at the start of the last 10-lap segment, we might have been able to pull something out. But starting back as far as we did (12th), it was a case of our car getting too tight too fast and we just had to hang on for all we could get.
Keselowski made contact with the outside wall and had brake problems in the first 30 laps, leaving the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge six laps down. He didnt give up. Neither did his Blue Deuce team. In the next 20 laps of the 50-lap segment, he passed the leader on the track to make up one of the laps. In fact, the No. 2 Dodge was the fastest car on the track. Cautions helped reduce the deficit to one lap heading into the final segment, but the 10-lap shootout was run without a caution.
We had a great race car most of the night, he said. We just needed one more break to get us back on the lead lap there at the end. One more yellow and I think we had the car to really do some damage. Im so proud of the recovery we had, getting five out of six laps back including one on the track. Weve got something to be proud of. The Miller Lite Dodge was fast. We just got behind early and ran out of time before we could make up the deficit. My guys gave me a good car tonight. If we keep working, well get there.
Keselowski used a bold move to grab the lead on the restart of the second 20-lap segment of the 40-lap Showdown and held on to finish second to advance to the Sprint All-Star Race. His move was to the inside of the two front runners. He went all the way to the grass before finally clearing the pair.
Keselowski held the point for 18 laps, but couldnt hold off pole winner David Ragan who reclaimed the lead with two laps remaining.
I was just trying to pass David (Ragan) on that restart, but David spun his tires and I had the opportunity to capitalize and made a run for it (the lead), said Keselowski. Thats what this is all about, doing all you can to transfer. Im happy that we were able to get our Miller Lite Dodge into the big show.
Our goal was to transfer, but we wanted to win the Showdown too. I didnt just let him by me; he drove by me. He had the faster car. Im happy for everybody at Penske Racing. We have both cars in the All-Star Race with Kurts (Busch) Shell/Pennzoil Dodge and my Miller Lite Dodge. Im happy to make it to the big show; this is my third year to be in it.
Were on the cusp of getting things going really well for everybody at Penske. Were starting to capitalize on some momentum. We know we need more speed, but were executing. We executed tonight with perhaps not the fastest car, but as a team and we got it done.