"We had a great car and we put together a great effort tonight," Busch said of his 10th top-five finish and 21st top-10 of the 2009 season. "We finished fourth tonight. We finished fourth overall in the season standings and we fought hard every race, every lap of the way. We got behind on pit strategy tonight at the end. Pat (Tryson, crew chief serving his final race in that role) said two tires and I said, ‘Make sure nobody else does four (tires).' Everybody did four, but that's racing.
"We fought and fought all night," said Busch, who led five times for 43 laps in today's race. "I found this weird line out on the race track where I could drive the car in really deep and it was just building the right-front tire pressure so much that I couldn't hang on to it at the end and Kevin (Harvick) caught us for third-place. That doesn't define our year. What defines our year was the perseverance, hard work and just being first in class this year. We fought hard to be fourth overall because those Hendrick cars are tough to beat. I want to congratulate Jimmie for his historical run to the fourth straight Sprint Cup championship here tonight."
Busch started 12th on Sunday and continued advancing through the pack in the early going of the race. Tryson purposefully kept his driver out extra laps during the first round of green-flag pit stops in order to lead the race and pick up the five bonus points for doing so. After leading lap 53, Busch hit pit road the next time around for four tires and air pressure and track bar adjustments. Busch had fallen to 10th when the stops cycled around on lap 58.
After a 12.742-second pit stop under the first caution flag of the race, Busch lined up sixth on the lap 85 restart. He began a charge toward the front which saw him up to fifth at lap 100, fourth at lap 105 and third on lap 114. He passed Denny Hamlin for second on lap 134 and cleared Harvick for the lead on lap 135.
Running almost two-tenths of a second faster per lap than the other cars, Busch was able to get out to enjoy a 2.4-second lead on lap 150. However, Juan Pablo Montoya got into Tony Stewart on lap 156 to bring out the fifth caution period of the race and close the gap.
He lined up second beside Hamlin for the lap 161 restart and cleared the No. 11 car to take the lead again on lap 181. He had built up a 0.865-second lead over second-place Jeff Burton when the sixth yellow flag was displayed, this on lap 194 for Robby Gordon's crash in turn 2. The Miller Lite Dodge over-the-wall gang had been tremendous throughout the race, gaining spots on every stop, but their 14.332-second stop on lap 195 left Busch starting fourth on the restart. When the green flag flew again on lap 198, Hamlin led, with Burton second, Kyle Busch third, Kurt Busch fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth.
Busch had again charged toward the front in the laps that followed. He was up to second on Lap 216, when the seventh yellow flag flew, this one for debris in turn 2. Tryson called for right-side tires only. The 6.96-second stop had Busch in the lead for the lap 221 restart.
With all the leaders taking on four tires, Busch had fallen to fifth on lap 223. He staged a charge back to the front, however, getting around Bowyer for fourth on lap 230. He cleared his brother, Kyle, for third on lap 251 and had his eyes on second-place Burton. Harvick closed the gap up to Busch and the two fought in a spirited battle for the third spot in the waning laps. Harvick made a successful move out of the final turn to pull up beside the "Blue Deuce" and take the third spot by inches at the line.
At the checkered flag, it was Hamlin taking a 2.632 seconds over Burton, with Harvick finishing third, Busch fourth and Johnson fifth. Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out today's top-10 finishers.
"It was a great night for our Miller Lite Dodge," Tryson said. "We struggled a little bit early in the race, but then we were able to get the car to come around a little bit. We took a chance there at the end by only taking two tires and maybe we shouldn't. It was a good night, it just didn't end the way that we wanted it. It looked like it was (track position being important enough to take on just the two tires). It's hard to say how it was going to shake out. The 29 and 2 cars were the fastest on track at the end of the race and we thought that we had the right pit strategy. It just wasn't enough tonight."
After 36 races have been put into the record book, here is the way the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings shake out. Shown is position, car number, driver, '09 wins, points, deficit to first and finishing position in Sunday's race:
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson [7 wins], 6652, finished 5th
2) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 6511, -141, 12th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon [1 win], 6473, -179, 6th
4) #2-Kurt Busch [2 wins], 6446, -206, 4th
5) #11-Denny Hamlin [4 wins], 6335, -317, WON
6) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins], 6309, -243, 22nd
7) #16-Greg Biffle, 6292, -360, 14th
8) #42-Juan Montoya, 6252, -400, 38th
9) #39-Ryan Newman, 6175, -477, 23rd
10) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 6128, -524, 17th
11) #99-Carl Edwards, 6118, -534, 7th
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 win], 5929, -723, 20th
Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Kesolowski finished 21st and 25th on Sunday. The No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge finished 28th in car owner points, while the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge finished 30th in the final car owner point standings.
Busch and the other top-10 points finishers will be taking to the stage during the Friday, Dec. 4 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Coverage of all of the festivities will be seen live on SPEED-TV. Please consult your local listings for the broadcast times in your area.