KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 14, 2015) – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, the site of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, ranked fifth in the Contender Round of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It’s a relatively comfortable spot to be in, but Busch knows he’ll need another performance like he had at Kansas in the spring to help solidify his position in what he feels is one of the most challenging rounds of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Race winners from each round of the Chase automatically advance to the next round, with the remaining advancing teams determined by total points accumulated. Should Busch be able to duplicate his May performance at Kansas – he started and finished eighth – it would give him a little more of a cushion in the standings. He enters the second race of the three-race Contender Round ranked fifth on the Chase grid and has a 10-point cushion over ninth-place Ryan Newman, the first driver currently ranked below the cutoff line.
This weekend, Busch hopes to add his name alongside Joey Logano, winner of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, to the list of winners who automatically advance to the next round of the Chase. Busch cannot be overlooked as a contender. After all, he has shown consistent speed on the intermediate tracks this season and, last month, he scored a career-best third-place finish at Kansas Speedway’s sister racetrack, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Although he has yet to find his way victory lane at Kansas, he has been able to compete at the track with a consistency that has resulted in only eight finishes that have been outside the top-15. Additionally, he has been running at the end of all but two of the races in which he’s competed at Kansas. In 19 starts, Busch has earned one pole, one top-five finish and five top-10s. While the 1.5-mile oval hasn’t been one of his best tracks, he did collect his career-best finish – a second-place effort – in this event two years ago.
While a breakthrough victory at Kansas would add to the list of mile-and-a-half successes the Las Vegas native has experienced in his career, it would do much more than that for his 2015 championship hopes. A win this weekend would guarantee him a spot in the third round of the Chase no matter what happens in next week’s daunting elimination race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes Kansas Speedway unique?
“As far as intermediate tracks go, it’s been one of the tougher tracks for me. It’s very smooth and it’s fast, so you can be aggressive with shock control, sway bars and other things. Kansas is definitely its own animal, but it compares more to a Michigan and the smoother racetracks that we run on versus the rough ones like Chicago and Atlanta. Kansas is unique in terms of how the wind changes direction from day to day. So, turn two might be a problem one day and turn four might be a problem the next day.”
With Talladega looming, how important is it to have a strong finish this weekend at Kansas?
“Well, it’s Charlotte and Kansas. If you win at either one, you’re good to go. You’re golden. If you have a poor finish at either one, now you’re relying on Talladega to be a good finish. You’re working from behind. You want to win at Kansas and take Talladega off if you really had the best option.”
Talk about how the new Chase format has raised the level of excitement and drama for the fans who follow the sport.
“It makes if full throttle. The intensity, the excitement, you have 26 races as a regular season and then you have three playoff races at a time. The intensity level is so high that you can’t steer away from the entertainment side of it, and the value that it gives you to watch it, to be part of it, and to be a sponsor involved in it. It’s big-time excitement of what professional auto racing is all about.”
You don’t race much in this part of the country. What’s it like when you visit a track like Kansas?
“We get a lot of fans from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa – a lot of great Midwestern folks there and it’s a nice atmosphere. Kansas seems to always have a great crowd.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine