Coded Results at Chicago
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 13, 2015) – A code that uses just two symbols to represent information is considered a binary code. Different versions of binary code have been around for centuries and have been used in a variety of contexts. Braille uses raised and unraised bumps to convey information to the blind. Morse code uses long and short signals to transmit information. And binary code uses sets of 0s and 1s to represent letters.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has established a fairly coded system of results at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, where this year’s 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship playoffs begin Sunday. In 14 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Busch has finished either sixth or eighth in half of those races.
A finish of sixth or eighth would be a good start to the Chase for Busch. While a win would guarantee his advancement from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round, consistent finishes in the first three races would guarantee the same. Under the previous Chase format, drivers looked at the postseason as a 10-race stretch. Now, it’s taken three races at a time.
A glance at the 2014 Chase confirms that consistency carried the same weight as a win. Ryan Newman was one of the final four drivers to make it to the Championship Round, and he did so despite going winless on the season. Denny Hamlin, another driver who made it to the Championship Round, won early in the season but went winless in the Chase. Consistent results were enough for both drivers to have them competing against Joey Logano, who won five races on the season and two in the Chase, and Busch’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, who also won five races on the season, including three in the Chase.
Consistently finishing sixth or eighth throughout the Chase could add up to championship numbers for Busch. After all, Harvick’s average finish in his 2014 championship-winning Chase races was 8.5. Being consistent and eliminating mistakes while putting pressure on others to do just that would certainly go a long way in Busch’s efforts to advance through each of the elimination rounds this season. Granted, with wins carrying a guaranteed transfer, Busch will set his goals higher than that.
Starting Sunday, Busch and his No. 41 team have 10 races to prove they are the best of the 16 drivers who comprise the 2015 Chase field. Consistency, top-five finishes and wins are what the Haas Automation team will need to contend for this year’s championship. They’ll only look as far ahead as the next race. The driver and team know that knocking off the best possible finishes one race at a time will ultimately put them right where they want to be when the checkered flag flies at the final Chase race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about heading to Chicagoland Speedway this weekend and kicking off the 2015 Chase. Is getting a strong finish at Chicago as important as ever with the new playoff format?
“The first Chase race is important but not as important as it used to be. When we had a 10-race stretch, starting off strong could carry you a long way. Now it’s three races at a time. You could say it’s more important or you can look at it and go, ‘Well, if you are in the Chase, it means your team has done a good job all year and you shouldn’t stress it more than any other race and that, if you just go and do your job, you are going to end up with a solid finish.’ But the Chase now is structured three races at a time. So it’s Chicago, Loudon and Dover. If you win Chicago then, yeah, you don’t have to sweat it at Loudon and Dover. Same thing in the next round – if you win at Charlotte, you don’t have to stress at Kansas or Talladega. So, the Chase is broken up into four sectors, three races at a time (for the first three sectors).”
Talk about the intensity and emotion of working through those four sectors.
“The Chase is definitely way more intense with this package. You have to advance through three races at a time. In those three races, if you have one mistake, you’re done. You have to eliminate mistakes. You can’t have failures. You can’t have bad pit stops or loose wheels. You can’t make a mistake out on the track and get caught up in a wreck. It is so intense to advance through each of the three races. That’s what you saw last year, everybody’s raw emotion, especially around the Charlotte race as far as who’s in and who’s out. That whole round, I think the second round of the Chase is the toughest. That’s Kansas, Charlotte and, if you don’t perform well at those two tracks, you’re at the mercy of the Talladega roulette wheel when you get there. That’s the hardest round to get through.”
Do you like the new format? Do you feel it benefits you and the No. 41 team?
“I like it but, yet, it’s difficult because you can have one bad race and you just went through 26 races preparing for the playoffs and it can be taken away from you very quickly. You have to prepare, you have to look ahead. You have to be at your best, and this team with Tony Gibson and the No. 41 Haas Automation group, we’re going to be ready. We’re going to give it our best and we’re going to be smart about it.”
What have your previous races at Chicago been like for you?
“Chicago is a fast, mile-and-a-half track I have always enjoyed racing since I started racing there in my rookie season. The track isn’t as smooth as it used to be – it has some bumps in it – but it’s a place I like. It’s another one of those tracks, though, where I just haven’t had the best of luck. An example is the 2002 race. We had a really fast car for that race but, for some reason after the last pit stop, the car just wasn’t handling the same as it had been. We were just way too tight and really couldn’t figure out why. When we got back to the shop and started going over the car, we realized that the radiator pan had come off and that’s like 100 pounds of front downforce. We were going so fast that the car bottomed out and dragged the radiator pan out. It’s just weird stuff like that.”
Why is Chicago such a good track to kick off the Chase?
“There are endless reasons on why it’s a cool place to start the Chase. It’s a one-race venue. It’s a big market. It’s in the Midwest, where we have a ton of NASCAR fans who are hungry for NASCAR. And, when you go to one track, one time, it just has that different feel about it, like it’s very important. It’s great that we only go there once. May as well kick off the Chase at a track like that and end it at Homestead, another track we only go to once.”
What makes Chicago difficult and what does it take to be successful there?
“It’s tough because we only go there once a year. It’s a typical mile-and-a-half that has its own characteristics, but you can use the balance from other mile-and-a-half tracks to get you close. Then, as the race plays out, restarts are important. The bumps going into turn one, the bumps coming through turn four, all of that will play out and you just have to kind of roll with it. If you’ve got a chance to win, you want to capitalize on that. That helps ease the stress of the next two rounds of the Chase.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine