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Kurt Busch ends 51-race drought, gets back in Cup contention with Pocono win

LONG POND, Pa. -- Kurt Busch's winless drought is over. His
absence from the Chase may not last much longer, either, not with
the way crew chief Pat Tryson is calling all the right shots.

Busch dominated Pocono Raceway from the opening lap on Sunday
and raced his way back into championship contention, giving himself
a perfect belated birthday gift: a trip to Victory Lane.

A day after he turned 29, Busch snapped a 51-race losing skid
that lifted him into the 12th and final spot of the Chase for the
Nextel Cup standings with five races left until the championship
races start.

"It's been 50-something races and that was a tough burden,"
Busch said.

Busch, who missed the Chase last season after qualifying in 2004
and 2005, hadn't been in the top 12 in points since a 100-point
penalty for reckless driving in June knocked him six spots down to
17th.

Now he's back and on his biggest roll of the season. He turned a
13-point deficit behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. into a seven-point edge.

"The big picture is we've got a few more races to go until
Richmond," Busch said.

Busch, who had surged to 13th in the standings entering the
Pennsylvania 500, led all but 25 laps and made his second career
Pocono victory look easy. The 175 laps led was a Pocono record.

Not even a lug nut problem on pit road under caution late in the
race and a hard-charging Earnhardt affected him very much. His No.
2 Dodge was clearly the car to beat all day.

Busch fell to ninth on the restart on the 143rd lap, but quickly
made up ground and passed the revitalized Earnhardt for the lead
with 47 laps left.

The 2004 series champion needs to keep his hot streak going -- three top 10s in four races -- if he wants to keep his spot for the
10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.

It was Busch's first win since March 26, 2006, at Bristol, and
he was second in both Pocono races last year.

"You never for one instant think you have the race in the
bag," Busch said. "The only time I really thought about it was
coming to the checkered, Lap 199 coming to 200."

The race didn't include Robby Gordon, who was suspended by
NASCAR early Sunday morning for his conduct at the Busch Series
race in Montreal a day before.

Earnhardt was second and Denny Hamlin, who swept both races at
Pocono last year, finished third. Points leader Jeff Gordon and
Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

"We actually had a stronger car than the last time we were
here," said Gordon, who won at Pocono in June. "If the No. 2 car
didn't exist today, then maybe some of us had a chance to win this
thing. But wow."

Tony Stewart had his two-race winning streak snapped and was
sixth.

Drivers often complain that the 2½-mile triangle track with the
longest straightaway in NASCAR often leads to one of the most
boring races of the season. This one was no exception as Busch led
nearly the entire race except for a short stretch near the end when
Earnhardt shook off early trouble with the No. 8 Chevrolet and
temporarily took the lead.

But Earnhardt, who failed to capitalize on his first pole since
2002, couldn't press him for very long.

"Kurt had the best car all day," Earnhardt said.

Certainly the 500-mile race wasn't as wild or controversial as
the Busch Series race Saturday in Montreal. Robby Gordon upstaged
the debut weekend for the series in Canada with his antics on the
track, including his refusal to pull off the track as ordered and
celebrating the same time as race winner Kevin Harvick.

NASCAR suspended Gordon for Sunday's race, and additional
disciplinary action could come this week. P.J. Jones drove Gordon's
car and finished 37th.

"I'll accept my penalty and I'll accept sitting out today's
race," Gordon said.

Busch is experiencing a resurgence since Tryson joined Penske
Racing six races ago, the third crew chief the former champion has
had this season. He would have already had the 12th spot in the
standings had he not been docked 100 points for reckless driving
and endangering one of Stewart's crew members on pit road at Dover.

Busch said after qualifying second on Friday that he hoped those
100 points wouldn't be a factor in making the Chase. With the way
he's driving the No. 2 Dodge, they won't matter.

"We've thrown away quite a bit of points this year," Busch
said, rattling off a list of blown races. "I'm not going to look
back at those 100 points and think it's a deficit. It only made us
into a stronger program."

So did adding Tryson, who was available when he was let go as
Greg Biffle's crew chief earlier this season. Tryson, a Malvern,
Pa., native has given the Penske Racing a program a needed boost
and settled the crew chief position that was filled by Troy Raker
and Roy McCauley.

"I'm lucky enough to come in and work for these guys," Tryson
said. "They've accepted me and done everything I've asked."

With these kind of results, why wouldn't they?

Busch started only 13 points behind Earnhardt. Now Junior is the
driver on the outside looking for a way to qualify over the next
five races before the 12-car field is frozen after Richmond.
Earnhardt complained early about his car being tight, spun out, and
had shaky shocks before his crew solved the problems too late.

"I don't want to finish 12th, I want to finish eighth or
seventh," Junior said. "We've got a few races, but I think we'll
do fine."

Not if Busch has a hand in stopping him.