Too late, but Kyle Busch has another promising run

Updated: October 26, 2008, 8:38 PM ET
Associated Press

HAMPTON, Ga. -- While it didn't do him any good in the standings, Kyle Busch had another strong run Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and hopes that he might be able to salvage a win before the year is done.

Busch, the Sprint Cup points leader going into the 10-race playoff, dropped from contention when his season went south at the worst possible time. He started the Chase with finishes of 34th, 43rd and 28th, dropping him to last among the 12 drivers who qualified.

At least the No. 18 team shows signs of recapturing the form that made Busch look unbeatable earlier in the year. Busch was fourth at Charlotte two weeks ago, and followed it up with a fifth-place showing in the Pep Boys Auto 500.

"I'm happy with that, I guess," Busch said. "If we can keep finishing in the top five ... then the wins should come back our way."

Busch remains last in the Chase, 465 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 40 behind the next-lowest driver, Denny Hamlin.

"It's a good points day," Busch said. "We're not in the points anymore, so we're trying to get some wins. We have to run in the top five to contend for those."

After the race, NASCAR announced that it was taking the rear end of Busch's car back to the R&D center for further examination to make sure it conformed to the rules.

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WALTRIP'S THOUSANDTH: As the sun set on Atlanta Motor Speedway, Michael Waltrip's battered car was loaded onto his team hauler. The right rear quarter-panel was ripped off. The No. 55 had been scraped away.

Hardly the way he wanted to finish the 1,000 race of his NASCAR career.

Waltrip was involved in two spins and brought out at least two other yellow flags by leaving debris on the track. He finished eight laps behind winner Carl Edwards in 37th place.

This was the 722nd start of Waltrip's Sprint Cup career, to go along with 270 in the Nationwide Series and eight in the truck series.

While Waltrip is second on the career list to seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty, he's hardly had the success of the King, who made all of his 1,184 starts at the highest level.

Waltrip has won four Cup races -- though, it must be noted, he's a two-time Daytona 500 champion -- and has 11 other wins in the Nationwide Series.

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MARTIN'S FUTURE: Mark Martin has talked with Hendrick Motorsports about getting a headstart on his next job.

The 49-year-old Martin might drive the No. 5 car at the season finale in Homestead. He's already set to replace Casey Mears in that ride next season.

"Since you don't get on the race track in December, or really the first half of January, it would give us a chance to find out what we need to focus on so that we come out of the gate focusing on what it is that we saw we needed to work on," Martin said before Sunday's race. "It would be a great advantage for us in that respect."

Martin, who has tested twice in the No. 5 car, will finish his contract with Dale Earnhardt Inc. the next two races at Texas and Phoenix, and he has no plans to ask out of those events.

Mears doesn't know if he'll finish the year in his ride.

"Honestly, you'll probably hear about it before me," he said. "There have been some conversations about things, but I don't know what the options are. I'm sure the week before Homestead we'll have a better idea of exactly what's going on."

Mears is moving to Richard Childress Racing next season, and Childress said Sunday he'd "for sure run Casey" at the final race if Hendrick gave him an early release.

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MONTOYA'S ANGUISH: Juan Pablo Montoya was running strong. Then a couple of mishaps ruined his day.

A top 10 contender much of the race, Montoya's fortunes took a turn for the worse when he was clipped on pit road by Clint Bowyer during a late caution period. The Colombian got back on the track, only to get taken out in a five-car crash in turn three with 22 laps to go.

Montoya finished 40th and dropped one spot in the season standings to 24th.

"It was a struggle for the first 10 laps of a run, and then just got better and better and better," Montoya said. "We had a topflight car at the end."

On the eighth caution of the race, he dipped into the pits for new tires. That's when he tangled with Bowyer, who was battling to get back on the lead lap as the "lucky dog," essentially ruining any hope of a good finish for the No. 42 car.

"It's annoying, because you could say we shouldn't have taken tires because we were wrecked," Montoya said. "But I think it would have cost us if we hadn't and was the right call. I came out one lane and I think Bowyer was fighting for lucky dog and he came down and hit us. It's stupid."

Still, Montoya was encouraged by the way his Dodge ran in what has been a disappointing season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

"It's exciting to see where everything is heading and the team is heading," he said. "We're a lot closer. In my opinion, we're still not there, but today shows where the team is heading."

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HOMETOWN FAVORITE: Bill Elliott didn't get much of a chance to shine for the home folks.

The Georgia native collided with Sam Hornish Jr. on the backstretch just three laps into the race. While Elliott was able to limp to the pits for repairs, he wound up nine laps behind in 38th place by the time his day was done.

The 1988 Cup champion was racing for the 18th time this season. Elliott missed in three other attempts to qualify for Woods Brothers Racing.

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ANOTHER TRY: Joe Gibbs Racing will try yet again to get Joey Logano into one of its cars this season by sending him to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend.

Logano has tried three times to race the No. 02 car in the Sprint Cup Series, but all three qualifying sessions were washed out by rain, including this weekend at Atlanta.

In those situations, the 43-car field is determined by the points. Logano, a regular in the Nationwide Series this season, was left out each time.

"We're going to run Texas and there is a possibility that we will add some more to it," team president J.D. Gibbs said Sunday. "It probably depends on our test schedule and what we've got going on."

The 18-year-old phenom has been tabbed to replace Tony Stewart in the No. 20 ride next season, and JGR is trying to get him as much Cup seat time as possible before his promotion. He's made two Cup starts this season, both for Hall of Fame Racing, and struggled to finishes of 32nd and 39th.

Logano is not yet NASCAR-approved to run the season-opening Daytona 500, and racing at Texas could secure it. But Gibbs thinks Logano's experience running in the ARCA and Truck Series' at Talladega earlier this month might be enough.

"I think he's probably done enough," Gibbs said. "From our standpoint, we've talked to NASCAR, too, we want to see him in some more stuff as well. We're going to run at least one or two more."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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