KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – While the first day of summer is still a few weeks away, the unofficial start to the summer season always begins with Memorial Day. And for Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), that’s music to his ears.
Summer takes on a completely different meaning for anyone associated with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The imagery of backyard barbecues and sandcastles are replaced with images of tracks with the names Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma – just to name a few. The first 12 races of the season are in the books and the second third of the schedule, the “Summer Swing,” begins with Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
The upcoming series of events can be a brutal stretch with extensive travel to locations up and down the Eastern Seaboard, to the road race on the West Coast and back, to the beaches of Daytona for the annual Fourth of July weekend event. In addition to the travel schedule, summer means rising temperatures and the need to prepare for the increased heat. While this portion of the NASCAR schedule is tough, some drivers find comfort in getting down to business at a series of tracks for which they have an affinity. Busch is one such driver.
Busch has visited victory lane at four of the next five racetracks the series visits, including this weekend’s race at Dover. He has two wins apiece at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and Michigan International Raceway in Brooklyn, one at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, and also has two top-10s at Kentucky – all tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule in the coming month. In fact, of his 26 career Sprint Cup victories, 10 have come in the summer months.
While Busch has had a rough go of it at the concrete Dover oval since his fall 2011 win – his best finish since is 12th in June 2013 – he does have reason to believe this weekend may bring an end to that trend. Busch has been a weekly contender this season and has recorded top-15 finishes in his last 12 Sprint Cup starts – tying the longest consecutive top-15 streak of his career. The last time he accomplished the feat was in 2004, the year he won the Sprint Cup championship.
With his most recent victory at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway last month, Busch and the No. 41 team are virtually guaranteed a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs. With plenty of racing to be done until the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois in September, Busch and his Tony Gibson-led crew can now race aggressively for additional wins. A victory at Dover this weekend would move Busch ahead of the six other single-race winners of the 2015 season. The 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their points total reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk a little bit about racing at Dover.
“Dover is a tough racetrack with how the banking transitions in and out of the corner, and then with the concrete surface, on how much the rubber build-up changes throughout the weekend. It’s tough, because you can’t simulate how the racetrack is going to drive at the end of the race when there really isn’t any rubber on the track until the end of the race. You have to be prepared for the track being at its worst – the least amount of grip is around lap 400 on Sunday. That is what you have to really prepare for.”
Do you feel it has earned its nickname?
“It’s called the Monster Mile for a reason – the track can chew up cars and spit them out. It’s because of those tough transitions into the corners with the high banking and even the high-banked straightaways. It’s tough to do that sharp of a turn on a mile racetrack. It’s like you literally jump down into the corner and then jump back up out of the corner onto the straightaway, and so those points of the track are the toughest part – the transition from straightaway to corner. It’s a fun track to drive.”
How physically demanding of a racetrack is Dover?
“You’re just on edge there and, the speed that you have to carry on corner exit, you’re right there at the wall every corner exit and you do it 800 times with 400 laps and two corner exits. That makes it tough. This race will wear you out, for sure, and you have to pace yourself.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine