KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has started the process of winding down. This weekend’s Windows 10 400 Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway will mark race number 21 of 36 that comprise the nine-month long season.
A total of 16 events remain on the 2015 schedule, yet the countdown to the season finale is well underway. Evidence of this is the series’ second visits to a number of upcoming tracks. This weekend’s race isn’t the first return visit of the season for the Sprint Cup competitors, but it is the first of 12 repeat appearances that will make up the next 16 weeks of racing.
There’s still a lot of racing left. A champion has yet to be crowned. NASCAR’s version of the playoffs – the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – is still six weeks away and all of the 16 drivers who will compete for the championship have yet to be determined. But, the field of title contenders is beginning to come into focus.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will be one of the 16 drivers in the Chase field.
Already having scored multiple wins this season, at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in April and Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn last month, Busch now has accumulated enough points to mathematically guarantee a spot in the top-30 in the driver standings through the regular-season finale Sept. 12 at Richmond.
While Busch had hoped to have a better result in last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he had an impressive eighth-place finish after overcoming a flat tire early in the race. It was his first top-10 at the iconic speedway since 2010, and the finish put Busch 298 points ahead of the driver listed 31st in the standings, making him just the fourth driver to have clinched a berth in the 2015 Chase.
Now that the Las Vegas native knows he’ll be making his ninth career and third consecutive appearance in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff, he can turn his focus to going all out and racing for additional wins in the final six regular-season events. Additional victories would move Busch ahead in the postseason ranking, as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase 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.
The quest to secure additional wins and those valuable bonus points starts this weekend at Pocono for Busch and Company.
Busch is one driver who not only has plenty of experience at Pocono, he has also experienced plenty of success along the way. He’s a two-time Pocono winner and also has 12 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s to augment his impressive stats in 28 career starts at the 2.5-mile triangle. Busch has led laps in 17 of those races, including a record-setting 175 circuits spent atop the leaderboard en route to his win in August 2007. He finished fifth when the series visited Pocono in June.
Busch’s solid performance statistics extend beyond tradition and into some pretty stout loop data numbers as he ranks in the top-five in a several categories at the Tricky Triangle, including laps led, fastest laps run, speed in traffic, green-flag speed and average running position. Add it all up and it equates to a third-place driver rating, placing Busch behind only six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s second, and perennial Pocono favorite Denny Hamlin, who’s first.
With the start of the Chase just six races away, Busch and the Haas Automation team are determined to race their way back to victory lane, and there’s no better place to start than this weekend at Pocono.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Which of the three turns at Pocono is your favorite?
“I love the tunnel turn – turn two. It seems like it is the easiest place to gain speed and lose speed. Every time I have won a race there, or competed well, I had a good car in the tunnel turn. It’s a challenge every time you go through there on how much speed can you really carry. Over the years, they have changed the shifting pattern for us. Sometimes you shift, sometimes you don’t. So there are always options when you go into the tunnel turn.”
Talk a little bit about racing at Pocono.
“I think it’s a fun track as far as how unique it is with the three corners being different. And the fact that your setup really can’t be dialed in for all three corners, you have to give and take. Some years it seems like turn one is tough. Some years turn three ends up being a tough corner, but I always focus on the tunnel turn. I always try to get through turn two as quickly as I can because, like I’ve said, it seems like the years I’ve won, that’s where I’ve had the best car.”
You’ve won twice at Pocono. Which was the better experience?
“The win in 2007 with Penske Racing – that was the fastest car that I’ve ever driven. That car would turn, stick, drive down the straightaway – that car did everything. It didn’t have a single flaw. I knew how good that car was on the first lap of the race. I remember telling myself, ‘Don’t screw this up.’ I ran the rest of the race more nervous than I had in years prior. I’ve never dominated a race like that. We led 175 of 200 laps. That was by far the best car I have ever driven. It was a great race to show the balance of that team and the strength of where we were at that point. I think the 25 laps that we didn’t lead were from a bad pit stop at one point. My first win at Pocono in 2005 was pretty great, too. It’s fun to win at a racetrack that is so unique because of how different that track is compared to all the other oval tracks. Pocono is a little bit like Darlington in that all the corners are different, so you have to manage them the best that you can and not be perfect in one corner versus another.”
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