KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – This weekend, the drivers and teams of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to the West Coast for the fourth time in 2015. While many will view Sunday’s Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway as the first of two road-course events on the schedule, for Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), a trip to California means much more than just that.
Their No. 41 Chevrolet races week in and week out with the livery of Haas Automation, the largest machine tool builder in the Western World. While the company is headquartered approximately 400 miles south of Sonoma in a purpose-built facility located on 86 acres Oxnard, California, it’s one of just two Sprint Cup races that are contested in “The Golden State” and, because of that, it holds extra significance for Busch, the No. 41 team, and everyone at SHR.
Haas Automation has always produced top-quality products at affordable prices, which are all built in the United States, which is something that Gene Haas, the founder of Haas Automation, takes great pride in doing. Founded in 1983 in Sun Valley, California, the company entered the machine tool industry with the first fully automatic, programmable collet indexer – a device used to position parts for machining with high accuracy. Haas moved the company to Oxnard in 1997.
Haas Automation has gone from humble beginnings to become the largest computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool builder in the Western World. The company’s commitment to building an American-made product has helped keep prices of machine tools down. For example, a machine the company first built 1988 sold then for just less than $50,000. Today, that same machine continues to sell for less than $50,000. Haas Automation is an American success story and, this weekend, Busch hopes to celebrate his sponsor’s success with some success of his own on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course nestled in California’s Wine Country.
Busch dominated the 2011 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma when he led 76 of 110 laps and crossed the finish line 2.685 seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Gordon to score his first Sprint Cup road-course victory. The win was not, however, his first on a road course in one of NASCAR’s top touring series. Busch had visited victory lane a pair of times in Xfinity Series competition at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, scoring wins at that legendary road course in 2006 and 2011.
While Busch would not consider himself a road-racing ace, he has developed a solid skill set for the tracks that feature both left- and right-hand turns. Busch is hoping to add to his already impressive Sonoma resume by scoring his third win of the season in this weekend’s 110-lap event. Having already found victory lane twice in 2015 – at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in April and at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn two weekends ago – winning this weekend at Sonoma would show the depth of the team and its ability to win at a variety of racetracks.
With two victories this season, Busch and the Haas Automation team have little to worry about in terms of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. They can head to Sonoma feeling less pressure and welcome the opportunity to race aggressively for additional wins. The 27-time Sprint Cup race winner will look to score back-to-back victories for the second time in his career. And he looks to earn additional points for the postseason as 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 about racing at Sonoma.
“At Sonoma, the race itself is a rhythmic balance that you get into. You work all the corners, you try to tie them all together to create your lap time. Road courses are unique as far as how you get into that rhythm and you don’t even realize that you are halfway through the race before you really even get settled in. Road courses are challenging in so many different ways. What is going to be tough about Sonoma this year versus years past is that we’ve had no testing. No road-course shake downs, no going to VIR (Virginia International Raceway in Alton) or another road course to get the car prepped. It’s going to challenge the drivers this year in a unique way.”
What is the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about racing at Sonoma?
“Sonoma has always been a sentimental favorite to me – I think that track helped put me on the map when I won there in a Southwest Tour race in 1999. The garage area sometimes grumbles when we go to road courses. I think that mentality has changed. Everybody has to accept that road courses are part of the NASCAR culture. There are the few who still think Sonoma is a tough track and they don’t find it quite as appealing as Watkins Glen. For me, I grew up racing there, so it’s easy for me to see it as part of the NASCAR culture.”
How did you learn to drive on a road course?
“It might sound odd, but I learned to road-course race by driving a Legends car. That was big in the mid-’90s in the Desert Southwest and they would let us run on the infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as well as the exterior road course there. We also raced road-course races at Buttonwillow and they had a street-course race at Los Angeles and they raced up in Sonoma. I was just kind of thrown into the fire with road-course racing, but I loved it from the first time I jumped on track.”
What do you like about road-course racing?
“I just like the rhythm. I like how you use one corner to help you in the next corner. You have to be thinking three corners ahead, sometimes. Plus, it’s a compromise on the setup. You’re never going to be perfect on all the corners, so you have to shoot for the middle in all of them.”
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