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Kurt Busch puts Fontana in rear-view mirror but still curious about the debris

STP 500 - Practice

STP 500 - Practice

Rainier Ehrhardt

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kurt Busch is past the disappointment of having a victory snatched from his grasp by caution flags at Auto Club Speedway, but he still is curious about the debris.

With Busch just 2 miles from a victory that would have locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a yellow flag flew on Lap 200 for debris, setting up a green-white-checkered finish at the Fontana, Calif., track.

Sprint Cup director Richard Buck told the news media that a piece of metal was spotted in the racing groove, but safety workers couldn’t locate it when the cleanup truck arrived under yellow. Buck speculated the debris might have been knocked aside after the caution began.

There also was no definitive replay by Fox that showed the debris

“There are so many cameras everywhere, you would think they’d be able to provide that,” Busch told NASCAR Talk. “I’ve seen cameras added in droves that we thought we would have seen something, but if (NASCAR) thought they saw something, then they made the right call.”

The caution flew again when Kyle Larson’s bumper was knocked loose on the Lap 203 restart, setting up Brad Keselowski’s winning pass. Busch finished third, but he still was pleased after leading a race-high 65 laps and gambling on staying on two tires for the final two restarts.

“I learned this in Little League baseball, when you stand there and watch the third strike go and get called out looking, that’s a horrible feeling,” said Busch, a longtime Chicago Cubs fan. “You get called out swinging, it’s not so bad. We were swinging for the fence. It was maybe a pitch that was outside the strike zone that we ended up having to swing at. If we’re in position more often to swing at good pitches, we’ll have a chance to get to victory lane.”

Since returning from a three-race suspension stemming from domestic violence allegations by an ex-girlfriend (a family court issued a protective order, but the Delaware Department of Justice declined to pursue charges), Busch has exhibited winning potential the past two races. He led a race-high 65 laps at Auto Club, and he finished fifth at Phoenix International Raceway after running second to winning teammate Kevin Harvick for much of the race.

He qualified 26th for Sunday’s STP 500, but mediocre starting positions haven’t hampered him at Martinsville. Busch won here after starting 36th in 2002. A year ago, he scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing from the 22nd starting spot at Martinsville (and after restarting outside the top 35 after an early pit collision with Keselowski).

Since being paired with crew chief Tony Gibson for the final three races last year, Busch has ranked second in driver rating to Harvick and behind only Harvick and Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano in average running position.

“I believe it’s as simple as communication,” Busch said of his relationship with Gibson. “It’s very crisp, clear.

“I feel like every week we’re going to have a strong car. It all comes down to the fine-tuning between the driver and crew chief on the balance of the car. It’s not all the crew chief or driver, it also has to do with the engineer, the pit crew. There are so many factors.”