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Busch makes his headlines on track

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Jul. 06, 2012

This time, Kurt Busch stayed ahead of trouble and above the fray.

Busch, whose NASCAR season has been marked by controversy both in the car and out, survived a bang-up finish Friday night and won the Nationwide Series’ Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

In the third of just four races he’s running for owner James Finch’s low-budget Phoenix Racing, Busch held off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the spinning, sliding cars of Michael Annett and Austin Dillon to win.

Joey Logano was fifth and points-leader Elliot Sadler finished sixth, but his lead in the standings was narrowed to two points over Dillon. Logano’s car was found to be too low in the front after post-race inspection. A penalty will be announced next week.

Busch has been in a sort of NASCAR purgatory this season. He had to look for any team that would have him after being cut loose from Penske Racing last season when NASCAR put him on probation after run-ins with reporters. He also found trouble this season after an angry post-race spinout in Ryan Newman’s pit stall at Darlington. Then, he was suspended for a race after another confrontation with a reporter at Dover.

Finch took on Busch for the Sprint Cup season and for four Nationwide races (he’s also running other Nationwide races for his brother Kyle’s team).

“This one is for the guys on this Phoenix Racing team,” said Busch. “We brought it home to victory at Daytona and that’s the statement.”

Busch avoided problems all night. He wasn’t involved in a 16-car wreck midway through the race, or another that collected five cars with 16 laps left.

Then, after a debris caution on Lap 97 forced a green-white-checkered finish, Busch hooked up with Stenhouse and led a tightly bunched group to the finish line.

As Busch took the checkered flag, Dillon – who was running third – was pushed from behind by Annett. With the race over, Dillon spun down the front stretch and was knocked into the wall by Kyle Busch, who couldn’t avoid him. Dillon still finished fourth.

“It’s not fun coming across the checkered spinning out, but it still felt good,” said Dillon.

Dillon had started from the rear of the field, despite qualifying fastest for the race earlier in the day. But Dillon was penalized by NASCAR because of an open cooling hose in the cockpit of his Chevy.

It was the second time this week that Dillon had taken a penalty. He was docked six points after winning at Kentucky last week when his car was measured to be too low in post-race inspection.

It looked for a while that Danica Patrick might be there at the end. Patrick led 13 laps and appeared at times to have the fastest car on the track until she crashed on Lap 83, a wreck that also included Jeffrey Earnhardt, Blake Koch, Stenhouse and Eric McClure.

“I thought we’d win tonight,” said Patrick, who finished 31st.

Patrick was one of 16 leaders in the race, which also had 42 lead changes, a Nationwide record at Daytona.

Saturday’s four highest-finishing Nationwide championship contenders – Stenhouse, Annett, Dillon and Sadler – are qualified for the Nationwide Series’ “Dash 4 Cash.” They will run for bonus prize money over the next four races at New Hampshire, Chicago, Indianapolis and Iowa.

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