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Kurt Busch back in top 10 after 2006 struggles

Kurt Busch back in top 10 after 2006 struggles

Kurt Busch back in top 10 after 2006 struggles
Thu, May 3, 2007
By Associated Press

Kurt Busch made a leap of faith when he left Jack Roush''s team, where he got his NASCAR start and won a championship, to work for Roger Penske.

Busch, who took over the seat in the No. 2 Dodge last year, replacing the retired Rusty Wallace, had a decent, though quiet, 2006 in his new ride. He won six poles, had one race win and finished 16th in the points - nowhere near what he and the team had hoped for in his Penske Racing South debut.

Busch said that, instead of getting down, the entire team took the first season together as a challenge to improve.

''We saw what kind of team and what kind of talent we really possessed,'''' Busch said. ''We knew we had a great foundation to build on.''''

While Busch hasn''t exactly set the Nextel Cup series on fire in the first nine races of 2007, he definitely is making strides.

After finishing a season-best third last Sunday at Talladega, Busch is 10th in the season standings and looking for a lot more heading into Saturday night''s race at Richmond International Raceway.

''We had been having good top-five and top-10 performances, but poor fuel mileage led to us getting caught by the caution flags and we just haven''t had some of the finishes we deserved,'''' Busch said. ''But we''ve still been making steady progress up the ladder in the points.''''

After finishing a disappointing 18th at Phoenix, the Talladega performance was an important one for Busch to regain momentum. To get it done, he managed to charge from 26th to third in the waning laps.

''We were pretty aggressive moving up through there, but with the laps running out, we just had to go for it and get all the positions we could,'''' he said. ''The team said we made up 23 spots in the final 10 laps and that''s pretty incredible.''''

Busch hopes that Talladega finish is something to build on.

''It was a finish that we needed and it came at a really good time for our team,'''' he said. ''We had a great test at Richmond earlier this month and we''re really looking forward to getting back there this weekend.''''

TOUGH TALK: Tony Stewart again spoke his mind on his Tuesday night satellite radio show. Only, this time, he didn''t get in trouble for it.

A week earlier, Stewart''s remarks about NASCAR, criticizing officials for unnecessary cautions and relating the stock car sport to pro wrestling, raised a firestorm of controversy that kept Stewart in the news the rest of the week.

This time, Stewart was asked his reaction to fans throwing beer cans and other debris onto the track after Jeff Gordon won the race at Talladega.

''What I thought was awesome is there were a bunch of sheriff''s deputies and policemen that were in plain clothes, and there were also a bunch of uniformed officers there that, as soon as people started throwing things, they were arresting people,'''' Stewart said. ''I thought it was great as far as the people getting arrested for it. I think it''s asinine for people to do that.

''If you''re one of them that threw something and got arrested, I think you got what you had coming to you.''''

BACK TOGETHER: The last time Joe Nemechek and his Ginn Racing crew chief Peter Sospenzo were on the same team for the spring race at Richmond, the result was a Cup victory.

That win come on May 3, 2003, when Nemechek and Sospenzo were members of the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports team.

It was no fluke, either, with Nemechek leading a race-high 156 laps before rain ended it with seven laps remaining. It was the third of four career wins for Nemechek.

The driver left the Hendrick team late in the 2003 season to join MB2 Motorsports (now Ginn Racing). He was reunited with his former crew chief when Sospenzo joined the team late last year to direct the new No. 13 team in 2007.

''Wins are tough to come by in this business, so I do remember that night as if it were yesterday,'''' Nemechek said. ''We had a great car all weekend. It was a special evening of racing.''''

Sospenzo echoed his driver.

''The best car won the race,'''' he said. ''We were strong from the get-go. However, this weekend is a different deal with the Car of Tomorrow.''''

Richmond was to be the fourth of 16 races this season for the COT and Nemechek''s third in the new car. He failed to qualify in the COT debut at Bristol, finished 27th at Martinsville and 16th at Phoenix.

''We had a good COT test in Richmond last month and also had a pretty good COT race in Phoenix two weeks ago,'''' Sospenzo said. ''We''re progressing with the car and would like to win again. But, being a realist, a top-10 finish would be great.''''

BIG CROWD: While some NASCAR tracks are muttering about slow ticket sales this season, officials at Richmond are smiling.

Despite adding nearly 8,000 seats to the frontstretch grandstands during the offseason, RIR sold all of its tickets for the Saturday night race, its 31st consecutive sellout.

The string of sellouts began March 9, 1992, when Bill Elliott edged Alan Kulwicki for a win on the .75-mile oval.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Jeff Burton headed into Saturday night''s race as the leader among active drivers in laps led on the Richmond track with 899. That''s a long way from the record of 5,136 laps led by Richard Petty, who won 13 times at the Virginia track.

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