New Hampshire Could Be Key to Championship
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 21, 2015) – One race down, nine to go until the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is crowned. The second race of the 10-race playoff that will crown the 2015 champion will be contested Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, the 1.058-mile oval that helped Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), solidify his Sprint Cup championship dreams in 2004.
Busch led 155 laps and drove away from Matt Kenseth to win the first race in the first-ever Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Sept. 19, 2004 at New Hampshire. The historic victory would be the first of six top-five and nine top-10 finishes the Las Vegas native would rack up during that year’s 10-race Chase. Busch hopes history will repeat itself this weekend and that, once again, the “Magic Mile” lives up to its moniker in helping him get one step closer to being crowned the Sprint Cup champion for a second time.
His team’s consistency during that 10-race stretch in 2004 played an important role as other drivers were able to score more victories than Busch but were unable to better him in the standings. Busch believes that kind of consistency, which is also a strength of the No. 41 team this season, could lead him to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Busch’s average finish of 10.6 this season is the best of his 16-year Sprint Cup career.
In 29 Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire, Busch has three victories – July and September 2004, and June 2008 – seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. Past performances at the track, including his 12th top-10 there this past July, leave Busch optimistic headed into the weekend.
The Haas Automation team opened the Chase with a third-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois last weekend. Busch and his Tony Gibson-led team advanced two positions to fifth in the standings, just four points behind Chase leader Kenseth.
With race winners from each round of the Chase automatically advancing to the next round, Busch would like nothing more than to pick up his third win of the season this weekend at New Hampshire and head to the final race of the Challenger Round without worry. But, with the rest of the teams advancing by total points accumulated, he knows another solid finish would also go a long way toward ensuring his advancement into the Contender Round.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts heading into this weekend’s race at New Hampshire?
“New Hampshire is a track that has been pretty good to me since I started racing in the top series of this sport. I raced there for the first time in the Truck Series and won that race. Then it’s a track where I have three wins in the Cup cars and, when you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you that confidence. Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”
What does it take to be successful at New Hampshire?
“I swept the races back in 2004. That was a completely different setup, completely different car and it came with a completely different driving style. Now, the new Loudon with the new car – I say new because you have to drive completely differently – the biggest thing is getting your car to turn through the corners. The track has corners that are very long and your car really needs to handle in the center. Then, the straightaways are pretty long, especially when you consider the fact it’s only a 1-mile track, so that means you need to have good drive coming off the turns so you can take advantage of the engine getting down the front and back stretches of the track. If you’re able to get good speed on those straightaways, then the next thing you need to be able to take advantage of is your brakes and for them to last to the end of the race. I have to do a better job to find a better finish this time around to help our chances to move through the Chase.”
How will your strategy change for the Challenger Round after seeing how things played out last year?
“As far as strategy and how the Challenger Round worked last year, I just had a tough race at New Hampshire and that more or less eliminated us. So, the strategy is to not have any big moments in the first three races. With 16 guys trying to get to the next 12, just the law of averages is going to be where you’ve got more guys, more chances for things to happen. We just need to do our job and stay out of trouble.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine