(Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)
Kyle Busch didn't run a perfect race on Monday at Watkins Glen, but he ran a smart one.
That's something you don't hear every day.
Despite an ill-handling car and arguably a poor decision to take the outside line on a late restart that allowed eventual winner Tony Stewart to take the lead, Busch did what he had to do to keep himself in position to make the Chase.
The fourth-place finish moved him within 58 points of the final playoff spot with four races remaining before the cutoff, and he's headed to tracks where he's at times been spectacular.
He lived up to a vow he made three weeks ago to become more of a team leader instead of bashing his team, to not get so frustrated when things aren't going well and to not turn a nonwinning day into a disastrous one.
In doing so, he ended a streak of four straight finishes outside the top 10.
"Wouldn't turn. Wouldn't stop. Wouldn't accelerate. Anything," Busch said of his car on ESPN after the race. "I'm tired. That wore me out right there. I had to drive with everything I had. It was great for all the M&M team guys. They did a great job this weekend, fought hard.
"It was three times harder than I had to drive here last year and I spanked them."
Spanking, by the way, means he won.
But look closely at his comments. He praised his team for working hard instead of criticizing his crew for not giving him a better car. He didn't give a snappy "don't-bother-me" answer, actually stopping to do a television interview.
He actually seemed to smile and gave his sponsor a plug.
And this came two days after Busch was frustrated by what he called a not-so-fair move by Marcos Ambrose to beat him in the Nationwide Series race.
Busch had every reason to be frustrated on Monday. He lost the lead on one restart when he was passed on the outside after choosing the inside lane. He then lost it again after choosing the outside.
The Busch of old -- or at least a month ago -- may have overdriven the car or even wrecked trying to hold his position. Instead, he showed patience and gave when it was time to give.
Yes, patience, something else you don't hear about Busch every day.
He has to show patience now. Points mean more than wins for a change, and this was a huge points day.
Busch went from 101 behind 12th place to only 100 out of ninth, currently occupied by Ryan Newman.
The best news for Busch is what's ahead. First up is Michigan, where over the past three races he's finished 13th, second and 13th. Next is Bristol, where he finished first and second in his last two races, followed by Atlanta, where last season he finished fifth and first.
If he's anywhere close going into the 26th race at Richmond International Raceway, watch out. Busch won there in the spring and has seven top-5s in nine trips to the Virginia capital. His average finish of 6.0 is about half that of most of those he's closest to in points.
So those who were throwing dirt on Busch's grave before Monday had better rethink. He's not going away without a fight.
A smart one at that.
Nationwide Series: Was Busch wronged by Ambrose?
"I wouldn't have made it because I would've wrecked and I think we would've wrecked if one of the cars didn't give, which I was the car that gave," Busch said. "I don't think it was a fair move. It won him the race and he had to do something. I wouldn't have been able to do it. I would've wadded my stuff up."
Those are pretty strong words from a driver who has been accused of being one of the most aggressive on the circuit. Most would argue there isn't a move he can't make, including that one.
In case you missed it, here's what happened. Ambrose dove under Busch, making slight contact, entering the narrow chicane on Lap 64. Busch was forced to miss the entrance and had to take a three-second penalty.
He eventually finished second, the 10th straight race in which he's finished in the top two. Judging by e-mails and radio talk show callers, Busch is getting some sympathy instead of criticism from fans who felt he was wronged.
But as upset as he was at the moment, Busch admitted Ambrose had the faster car. And after looking at television replays several times, it appears Ambrose did nothing illegal, keeping two tires on the track at all times.
"We had the second-best car," said Busch, who extended his points lead over Carl Edwards to 212. "I was trying to hold him off, but just didn't have enough to do it, unfortunately."
Camping World Truck Series: You ready for some racing a week from Wednesday?
The series resumes on Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Ron Hornaday Jr. will go for his sixth straight victory.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racing Resources SaysSprint Cup Series
- Tony Stewart won the rain-delayed Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International. Stewart scored his third victory in 2009. He is one of five drivers with multiple victories this season, joining Mark Martin (four), Jimmie Johnson (three), Kyle Busch (three) and Matt Kenseth (two). Stewart scored his 36th Sprint Cup Series victory in his 378th start. Stewart's last win came at Daytona in July.
Stewart led two times for 34 laps, including the final 24, the most by any driver. He has scored top-10 finishes in the last 10 races, extending a streak that began at Dover. Stewart posted his 225th career top-10 finish.
Stewart remained 19th on NASCAR's win list. He scored his fifth victory in 11 races at Watkins Glen. He has finished first or second in seven of his last eight races at Watkins Glen and has won five of the last eight -- the most wins by any driver at The Glen. Stewart has a 756-point lead over 13th-place Kyle Bush. Stewart only has to start in the remaining four races to make the Chase.
- Stewart won at Watkins Glen in both of his Sprint Cup Series championship seasons (2002 and 2005). He has scored seven victories in 22 races on road course tracks. Stewart's seven road course victories rank him second all-time behind Jeff Gordon with nine.
- Any driver more than 781 points behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth has been eliminated from the 2009 Chase.
- This marked the sixth Chevrolet victory in the past seven races at Watkins Glen. Chevrolet has scored 12 wins in 22 races in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has six while Dodge and Ford each have two. The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, three Chevrolets, two Fords and one Dodge.
- Marcos Ambrose (finished second) scored his career-best finish in 33 races. Ambrose was one of five drivers to score top-10 finishes in both road course races in 2009. Drivers scoring top-10s in both road course races in 2009 were Stewart (first at WG/second at Infineon), Ambrose (second/third), Denny Hamlin (10th/fifth), Juan Pablo Montoya (sixth/sixth) and Clint Bowyer (ninth/eighth).
- Carl Edwards (third) scored his career-best road course finish.
- Busch (fourth) climbed to 58 points behind 12th-place Kenseth and a spot in the Chase with four races remaining.
- Greg Biffle (fifth) posted just his third road course top-5 finish in 14 road course races. It was his best finish in seven races at Watkins Glen.
- Montoya has scored top-15 finishes in the past nine races, extending a streak that began at Pocono in June, all finishes of 12th or better.
- Max Papis (eighth) scored his career-best finish. Papis was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
- Johnson (12th) has led at least one lap in 18 of the 22 races in 2009, the most by any driver.
- Jeff Burton (38th) has finished 16th or worse in the past eight races, since Michigan in June.
- Bobby Labonte (20th) scored a milestone 300th career lead-lap finish.
- Stewart and Elliott Sadler (32nd) have each been running at the finish in the last 45 races, the longest current streak.
- The last time there were two postponed races in a row was Richmond/Darlington in May 2007. This marked the fifth race in 2009 affected by rain: Daytona ran 152 of 200 laps, Lowe's ran 227 of 400 laps and Loudon ran 273 of 301. Lowe's in May, Pocono in July and Watkins Glen in August all ran on Monday. This was the 75th race in series history run on Monday (34 were the Southern 500, where the race was scheduled for Monday each year).
- Marcos Ambrose won the Zippo 200 at The Glen. Ambrose scored his second Nationwide Series victory in 71 career races, both at Watkins Glen. Ambrose became the third repeat series race winner to win in 16 series races at The Glen, joining Terry Labonte (four in row) and Ron Fellows (three). Ambrose became the 12th different race winner in 22 races this season. JTG-Daugherty Racing scored its second series victory and first in 2009.
- Kyle Busch (finished second) has finished in the top two in the past 10 series races. It is the longest streak of finishing in the top two in series history. Busch was tied with Jack Ingram at nine entering the race. Busch has been the driver passed for the final lead change nine times in 2009. With his lead on Lap 49, Busch has led in 19 consecutive series races, tying Sam Ard's record for the most consecutive races led by a driver in series history. Busch now has a 212-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards, tying the biggest points lead of the season set earlier at Gateway.
- Edwards (third) has finished in the top 10 in 13 of the past 14 races.
- Kevin Harvick (fourth) has two road course victories (Watkins Glen and Montreal in 2007), eight top-5s and nine top-10 finishes in his nine career road course races. He has finished seventh or better in all six of his series races at Watkins Glen. Harvick's nine road course top-10s are the most by any series driver.
- Ron Fellows (fifth) has finished in the top 10 in six of his nine races at Watkins Glen.
- Scott Speed (10th) posted his fourth top-10 finish in seven races in 2009.
- Jason Leffler (15th) has finished in the top 15 in 20 of the past 22 races this season.
- Justin Allgaier (17th) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.