Kurt Busch had an interim crew chief and a dwindling fuel supply Monday near the end of the Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway.
But it turned out Busch had enough gas and horsepower to hold off runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the hard-charging Brad Keselowski for his first victory of the season, all but assuring the 2004 Sprint Cup champion a spot in the Chase.
Johnny Klausmeier, engineer for the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet team, served as the crew chief after Tony Gibson was suspended for a race due to a lugnut issue last week at Charlotte.
Following Busch’s final pit stop when the No. 41 Chevy was running 10th, Klausmeier told Busch he was in danger of running out of fuel with two laps left. Busch began saving gas when he could and wound up with his 28th career victory, tying him with Hall-of-Famer Rex White for 25th all-time.
Coming out of a restart following the 10th and final caution of the day, Busch was able to get past Earnhardt in Turn 2 and hold off rookie Chase Elliott with 32 laps remaining. Busch had plenty of car all weekend, what was less certain is whether he would have enough gas. He had enough to notch his first win of the season.
Three who mattered
Kurt Busch: The 37-year-old was strong in practice and ran well throughout the race before taking his first lead with 32 laps remaining and never relinquishing it.
Chase Elliott: The rookie led a race-high 51 laps after entering Pocono with 32 laps led the entire season, and finished fourth.
Brad Keselowski: The pole-sitter was penalized early for an unapproved body modification; FS1 cameras caught a crew member ramming his shoulder into the right side of the No. 2 Ford.
▪ Told the FS1 crew compared his penalty to one he drew during his Las Vegas win, Keselowski fired back: “That’s because Jeff Gordon’s in the booth. They need to get some people in the booth that aren’t inbred to the sport and own teams and have internal knowledge because that’s pretty crappy. But it is what it is.”
▪ Martin Truex Jr. could do no wrong when he led a record 588 miles in winning Charlotte. But Truex had bad luck all day, getting knocked into the wall by Matt DiBenedetto early and having tire trouble late en route to a 19th-place finish.
▪ Restarts were wild on the longest and widest front straightaway on the Sprint Cup series. Wrecks on restarts sent the cars of Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson to the garage during the latter part of the race.
They said it
“You’d probably be surprised at how involved the crew chief is in the race weekend even though he’s suspended.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Busch winning with an interim crew chief.
Three tweets from Monday’s race:
@chaseelliott Breaking news: the sun actually works in Pocono. Haven't seen that thing in 4 days!
@DaleJr We should have won today. I didn't do my best on the final restart. My team gave me a shot at it. Hell of a group of guys. @AxaltaRacing
@keselowski Solid day for us. Think we may have been able to pull off the win with a few more laps; even with the accident body damage.
Firekeepers Casino 400
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
When: 1 p.m., Sunday.
TV: Fox Sports 1.
Radio: Motor Racing Network.