"Dick Berggren has always been so great with numbers and he immediately pointed out in our post-race interview on FOX that we started third here today and finished third in our 300th career race," Busch told the throng of media members gathered in the infield media center some 10 minutes after posting his third top-five (and fifth top-10) finish of the season Saturday.. "I guess the rest of the story should include that we came in here third in points and we maintained that third spot leaving here, although we really closed the gap to first.
"It felt good out there tonight," Busch said of the run to his fourth top-five and seventh top-10 finish here at Phoenix in 13 races. "We had a great job done today on pit road and on the race track. I got into the fence coming off of Turn 4 in traffic, but to finish third behind two good guys, we'll take it with the Miller Lite Dodge. (It was) a great point's night for us. I got to lead some laps and it just shows that we've turned the corner, but still have a lot of work to do."
Busch started tonight's race from the third spot and was a staple among the top five for the entire evening, only falling back to 13th one time during a sequence of green-flag pit stops. For the majority of the race, the 2004 series champ and 2005 winner of this race ran among the top-three competitors.
When the second caution flag of the race flew on Lap 102, this one for debris on the frontstretch, Busch's Pat Tryson-led Miller Lite Team came to the call, turning in a quick 13.755-second four-tire pit stop and getting the No. 2 car back onto the track with the lead. The "blue deuce" led until hitting pit road on Lap 167 under the fifth caution flag of the race.
Busch got mired in traffic on the ensuing restart and survived a major scare when John Andretti forced him into the outside wall exiting Turn 4 on Lap 177. The damage caused a significant tire rub that fortunately diminished as laps were logged and the tire pressures increased.
"That was a mistake that I made," Busch said of the incident. "I thought for one second, 'Don't! Don't!' I thought for another second, 'Keep these guys behind you' because track position is important. The third time that I thought about it, I was in the fence. Just too many choices and I didn't make the right decision. My crew held me in there all night long; they gave me great pit stops. I felt like a third-place effort tonight was like a win because Mark Martin was stout. Tony Stewart was good midway through the race. Great job for our Miller Lite Dodge."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun on Lap 301 to bring out the final caution of the race and set up a seven-lap sprint to the finish of the 312-lap race. Busch went with four tires and air pressure adjustments during a final pit stop and was fifth on the single-file restart. Ryan Newman chose to stay out and immediately fell back through the pack when the green flag fell. Busch cleared him for fourth on Lap 307 and got by Denny Hamlin on Lap 309 for third. Jimmie Johnson applied heavy pressure during the final laps, but Busch was able to hold off the three-time champion for the third finishing spot.
It was wiry and well-respected veteran Martin taking one of the most popular wins in recent years here tonight, leading the most laps and coming home a winner by 0.734 seconds over runner-up Stewart. The 50-year-old Martin became the third-oldest winner in NASCAR history here tonight, snapping a 97-race winless streak with his first win since Kansas in 2005.
Busch was among the many drivers who visited Victory Lane to congratulate the winner and pay tribute to Martin.
"The guy has been at the top of his game in the sport for 30 years," said Busch, who raced with Martin at Roush Racing. "He's a tremendous athlete, a tremendous individual and he's definitely going to put together a strong run for the remainder of the season."
Finishing fifth was Greg Biffle, with Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, (Penske Racing teammate) Sam Hornish Jr. (ninth) and Carl Edwards rounding out the top-10 finishers. Penske Racing teammate David Stremme was credited with an 18th-place finish.
With eight races now in the 2009 record book, Jeff Gordon leads Hendrick Racing teammate Johnson by 85 points (1,242 to 1,157). Busch is third (with 1,144 points) and trails Gordon by 98 points. Stewart (1,138) is fourth and Hamlin (1,088) is fifth Matt Kenseth holds down the 12th and final "Chase-eligible" spot at this time with 946 points.
Stremme holds down the 20th spot in the point standings with 829 points, while Hornish moved up to 31st and has 709 points.
The Sprint Cup tour now heads back to the always-exciting restrictor-plate racing found at Talladega Superspeedway as the teams prepare for next weekend's Aaron's 499 on that mammoth 2.66-mile Alabama speed plant. Next Sunday's Aaron's 499 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 1:00 p.m. CDT starting time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.