Kurt Busch came to the newly reconfigured Homestead-Miami Speedway seeking to repeat his 2002 pole position/race win clean sweep and secure tenth place in the final drivers standings. Unfortunately an accident on lap four involving Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman prevented either from happening.

Sunday's Ford 400 at the much improved 1.5-mile Florida oval was not only the last race of the season and the last for title sponsor Winston, it also marked Busch's last chance to earn himself a place at the annual NASCAR awards banquet in December for finishing in the top ten in points.

"I was running three wide and the cars came up into me," Busch explained. "There are a lot of things you do at a brand-new track at the beginning of a race just to try to get going. We really wanted to finish in the top ten in points and we didn't get that this year."

While Busch toiled to finish 36th in his battered No.97 Roush Racing Rubbermaid Ford Taurus, Bobby Labonte drove the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo to his second win of the year after the dominant Bill Elliott cut a tyre half way around the 267th and final lap.

On Friday afternoon, Busch qualified 7th with a lap time of 30.060 seconds as the fastest Ford Taurus in the field.

"It's the last race of the year and we were kind of going for the pole that's eluded us all year." Busch said "I think we took one provisional this year, so it was a good year for qualifying overall."

The No. 97 brushed the turn four wall in practice on Saturday morning, but did not sustain any significant damage. Busch ended up 20th in Happy Hour but remained the third fastest Ford despite the contact.

Busch moved up quickly from his seventh starting position on Sunday afternoon when the green flag dropped, gaining three spots on the first lap. On lap four he was continuing his charge to the front while running in the high groove in turn one with Ryan Newman on the low side. Kevin Harvick went inside of the two cars and lost control of his No. 29 Chevrolet, sending the No. 12 into Busch and Busch into the turn two wall with serious damage.

At first it looked as if the No. 97 would be forced to retire for the day. The Rubbermaid team worked quickly to return the car to the track in an effort to pick up as many points as possible in a tight points battle with Terry Labonte for tenth in the Winston Cup point standings.

Busch returned to the track on lap 122 after significant repairs. When the checkered flag fell after lap 267, Busch crossed the line 36th. Labonte finished 15th to move past Busch by a mere 12 points in the final point standings.

Roush Racing teammates Jeff Burton finished 14th, Mark Martin 33rd, Greg Biffle 35th and 2003 Winston Cup Champion Matt Kenseth 43rd after losing a motor.

"It's a real bummer" said Busch of finishing eleventh in the final standings. "I really commend the group that works with me all year with this Rubbermaid team, but we just never had any luck out there today."

 

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