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Kurt Busch finishes fifth in first start since NASCAR suspension

Kurt Busch finishes fifth in first start since NASCAR suspension
Kasey Kahne, left, and Kurt Busch take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Kurt Busch came back determined and with a fast car.

Busch finished fifth Sunday in his first race since being reinstated by NASCAR after the driver had been suspended and missed the first three races of the season.

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Driving the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch was strong throughout the race at Phoenix International Raceway, at one point running second behind winner and teammate Kevin Harvick.

"Top five [finish], we'll take it," Busch said. "It was a pleasure to drive the car. We started our season today."

Busch was suspended on the eve of the season-opening Daytona 500 last month amid allegations of domestic violence by a former girlfriend. Busch denied the allegations.

After Busch agreed to follow a NASCAR recovery program and authorities chose not to pursue any criminal charges against Busch, he was reinstated.

"Lots of emotions" during the race "but [I] had to keep those in check and focus on the race car," Busch said.

Team co-owner Gene Haas said Busch "appreciates that driving at this level is a privilege."

"Kurt has a much more focused attitude," Haas said. "Now he can get back to business."

Junior's crash

Dale Earnhardt Jr. already was having a rough day when a tire blew on his No. 88 Chevrolet, sending the car slamming into the Turn 2 wall.

Earnhardt was not injured but his race was done. He finished last in the 43-car field.

"The car was really, really loose today and [it] just wore the right rear tire out, and blew the tire," he said. "We just have to get the balance [of the car] better where we don't burn the tire off of it."

Kahne's streak

Kasey Kahne, an Earnhardt teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, finished fourth in his 400th career Sprint Cup Series start.

"Harvick was the only one better than us the entire race," Kahne said.

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As for achieving the milestone in starts, Kahne said: "I hope I get 400 more."

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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