LONG POND, Pa. - Kurt Busch only had enough fuel to last 158 of the 160 laps. He needed to fuel up or save up. His crew members put on their gear and lined the wall along pit road. If he needed to make one final stop, they were ready.
But Busch never had to stop.
He maneuvered his car with the help of interim crew chief Johnny Klausmeier and conserved enough fuel to win the Sprint Cup Series Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 on Monday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
“I felt like a cook in the kitchen trying to beat the buzzer and not get chopped at the end of the show,” Busch said.
The race was scheduled for Sunday but was postponed because of rain.
The win was Busch’s first of the season and his 12th top-10 finish in 14 races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. Brad Keselowski was third and Chase Elliott fourth.
With 32 laps to go, Busch passed Earnhardt and the 20-year-old Elliott out of a restart to take his first lead of the race, which he held until the end.
“Chase Elliott wanted to block me off of Turn 1 and I said, ‘OK, kid, here we go,’ “ Busch said.
Busch averaged 125.49 mph on the 2 1/2-mile Pocono layout. He moved into second place in series points with 465, trailing only Kevin Harvick (490).
Last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the lug nuts on Busch’s car weren’t fastened properly and Busch’s regular chief, Tony Gibson, was suspended for one race. Klausmeier, one of Busch’s engineers, stepped up in his place.
Even though Klausmeier had to figure out the fuel situation, Busch said the interim crew chief was calmer than Gibson usually is.
“Johnny Klausmeier called a perfect race to gamble on the fuel a little bit,” Busch said, “but he also gave me the ball. He was like, ‘Hey, we’re two laps shy. Go get it for us.’ “
Twenty laps remained and no one in Busch’s pit crew was moving. One crew member anxiously tapped his leg while sitting on the pit road wall. Another smoked a cigarette while sitting back against the fence.
As other crews began packing up their equipment, members of Busch’s were glued to the TV broadcasting the race. Fifteen laps left.
Unsure whether Busch would finish without another pit stop, crew members threw on their helmets and watched. Seven laps left.
Busch passed the pit road entrance for the final time. The crew members took off their gear. One lap left.
When Busch crossed the finish line, his crew members joyfully hollered, high-fived one another and made their way to the stage to pose for photos.
“I was definitely nervous,” Klausmeier said. “You know how the deal goes. It can be hero to zero really quick.”
Busch and Klausmeier finished the race as heroes.