Kurt Busch and Jack Roush's No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford Taurus team continued the rebound they started earlier in the week in Atlanta, posting a second consecutive top-ten finish in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500.

Busch's hard fought fourth place effort also marked his first career top five in his fourth start at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway. Busch's race-high 98 laps at the head of the field also signaled the return to form for the No. 97 team for a second straight week after a stretch of four DNF's in five races.

"The team brought a great car here to Phoenix. It's the same car we won with at Fontana and Michigan earlier this year, and it was a top-five car from the start," Busch said after fighting back from 22nd in the final 75 laps. "We were able to get up front for the better part of the day, and we might have picked up another win if it hadn't been for some bad timing on the cautions at the end."

During Bud Pole qualifying on Friday Busch posted a best lap of 27.056secs, placing him seventh on the starting grid and making him the fastest Ford. Rain delayed the start of Happy Hour on Saturday morning, but the Rubbermaid team managed to hit their setup for a warm race day, despite the unseasonably cool temperatures during final practice.

When the green flag dropped on Sunday, Busch maintained his seventh-place starting position until the first caution came on lap 35 with Jeremy Mayfield losing his motor. When pitting on lap 40, Crew Chief Jimmy Fennig made the call to take on two tires and fuel. The decision paid off after an 8.48-second pit stop put the No. 97 in the lead for the restart.

Busch maintained his lead over the next 50 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr managed to pass the No. 97 on lap 96 with fresher tires, but another quick stop for four tires, fuel and a minor adjustment on lap 121 put the Rubbermaid Ford Taurus back in front.

The fourth caution of the day came when Jimmy Spencer blew his engine on lap 169. The Rubbermaid Ford Taurus pitted again for four tires, fuel and a minor adjustment to loosen the car up, and the No. 97 returned to the track in the sixth spot after leading for a total of 98 laps, the most by any driver on the day.

Busch worked his way back into the top five quickly. A multi-car accident on lap 221, involving the No. 29, No. 18, No. 2 and No. 20, resulted in another yellow flag. The Rubbermaid team gambled on a decision to pit for four tires and fuel, knowing they could not make it to the end of the race on fuel under green flag conditions. None of the other lead lap cars pitted during the caution, and Busch was shuffled to the back for the restart.

The No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford Taurus took advantage of the fresh tires and quickly charged to the front. Busch moved up from 22nd on the restart at lap 238 to the 15th position 12 laps later. Though Busch had moved back into the top 10 by lap 265, the cautions that had been the theme for the day continued, and the leaders were able to stretch their fuel mileage until the end without pitting.

By the time the checkered flag fell on lap 312, Busch had worked his way into fourth place, as the race saw a record tying 10 cautions on the day.

"Each week different things have been happening to us on the track, but now we've proved that we can come together as a team to overcome the obstacles," said Busch following the race. "I enjoy coming out west. This Phoenix mile has been good to me. It's a good finish and we led a lot of laps, so we're happy to be back in the top five."

Busch's Roush Racing teammates all finished in the top-fifteen at sixth (Matt Kenseth), eighth (Jeff Burton), 10th (Mark Martin) and 15th (Greg Biffle). Busch climbed to ninth in the overall Winston Cup point standings, 845 points behind Kenseth going into next week's race at North Carolina Speedway.

 

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