SONOMA -- Two weeks ago, Kurt Busch was parked by NASCAR. On Sunday at Sonoma raceway, he nearly made it back-to-back victories in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Busch battled race winner Clint Bowyer for most of the second half of the Sprint Cup Series event before winding up third after being passed by Tony Stewart on the final lap.
Busch would have had a shot at victory had he not suffered suspension damage when he clipped the tire barrier in Turn 11 with about eight laps remaining.
"Those tires had never been bolted down before," Busch said.
The resulting damage prevented him from going after Bowyer on the final lap.
"Without a doubt, I think I could have pressured Bowyer into a mistake," he said. "He was there for the taking coming to the white (flag). But the rear was too unstable under braking."
That also made it tough to defend against a charging Stewart.
"I had to yield to Tony," Busch said. "I didn't want to get up into the loose gravel and lose a bunch of spots."
Said Stewart: "I don't know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much that rear end was moving around on that car. I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had."
Third place certainly was an improvement from where Busch was two weekends ago, when NASCAR suspended him from the Pocono 400 because of a run-in with a reporter. That incident put him in jeopardy of losing his ride with Phoenix Racing.
But with his performance, Busch gained a measure of redemption, even though he was disappointed that he couldn't bring home a victory for his underfunded team.
"Being that close and make one mistake, it's a tough game," he said.
"I was really pleased, to be honest," Stewart said. "The last two days we had not been real happy with our balance and just couldn't seem to get the speed that a lot of the guys putting up big numbers were able to run. We couldn't even run within a second of them."
But Stewart's team, led by crew chief Steve Addington, turned things around.
"To end up running second is just a really good effort by all of our guys," Stewart said. "Nobody ever gave up on trying to find something that was going to make us a little bit better."
Ironically, the source of that yellow flag was Tomy Drissi -- a road-course specialist. Drissi tore up his car when he crashed at Turn 8.
During the race, he also had to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding while exiting pit lane.
Despite those infractions, Gilliland finished 26th.
Raceway general manager Steve Page said the timing is right to bring the WTCC here, now that Ford and Chevrolet are manufacturers in the series.
"They were insistent that the series come to the United States," Page said.
Contact Darryl Matsuda at 408-920-5215 and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DarrylMatsuda.