KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 20, 2015) – “Plus 13 is not very exciting. Wow, you kind of deflated my bubble there. I thought a fifth and a sixth was pretty good in this round. It is not.”
Those were the words of a surprised Kurt Busch following last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. Despite posting top-10 finishes in the first two races of the Contender Round of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) only hold at 13-point cushion over the eighth-place cutoff position in the Chase standings heading into Sunday’s elimination race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Talladega has always been considered the wild-card race of the Chase, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands.
It’s one of only two racetracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit where restrictor plates are used. By definition, a restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power. The use of a restrictor plate is intended to both limit speed and increase safety with an eye toward equaling the level of competition. Races at Talladega and its sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway are ones in which literally anyone can win. Horsepower-choked engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side at speeds approaching 200 mph.
Some drivers elect to drop to the back of the pack and ride, waiting until the late stages of the race to make their move toward the front of the field. Other drivers will do whatever they can to stay at the front of the field throughout the race. Other drivers find themselves stuck in the middle, an area that can be somewhat of a disaster zone.
One driver will win the race. Some drivers will finish. Others will be involved in the almost inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers prematurely.
Busch knows that his strong start to the Contender Round doesn’t allow him to breathe any easier heading to the famed 2.66-mile track for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500. After all, just last year, his younger brother Kyle Busch found himself in a similar position. With finishes of third and fifth in the two Contender Round races last year, the younger Busch felt relatively safe heading to Talladega. He was riding in the relative safety of the back of the field on lap 102 of the 500-mile race when he slowed up to avoid a multicar accident ahead of him. But, the car behind him did not. The result was heavy contact that sent him hard into the inside backstretch SAFER Barrier, causing extensive damage to his No 18 car. While the team was able to get the car back out to finish the race after extensive repairs in the garage, the 40th-place result was not good enough to make the top-eight in the point standings and advance to the next round of the Chase.
After Sunday’s 188-lap race, eight of the 12 remaining Chase drivers will earn the chance to continue their playoff run by advancing to the Eliminator round starting the following weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Kurt Busch is looking for another top-10 finish Sunday and hopes that it will be enough to allow him to continue his quest for the 2015 Sprint Cup championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talladega is probably the least physically demanding track you go to but, mentally, from all that you have to do all day long, are you kind of drained after that race?
“Yeah, Talladega is the toughest. It’s a chess game at 200 miles per hour. You’re trying to survive and not run into things or have somebody run into you. Points can be taken away from you so quickly at Talladega, that’s what everybody is stressed about.”
You are 13 points ahead of the cutline headed to Talladega. How does that affect your strategy?
“Really? Only plus 13? That is unbelievable. I would have hoped we could have been 25. That is how tight it is. This competition, you can’t get a spot on anybody and you can’t give up a spot. Plus 13 is not very exciting – wow, you kind of deflated my bubble there. I thought a fifth and a sixth was pretty good in this round. It is not.”
Talk a little bit about racing at Talladega.
“It’s so difficult to predict Talladega. You can ride around in the back or charge up front all day and, either way, your day can end with your car on the hook. You just hope to have Lady Luck guide you to a good finish. Restrictor-plate races have turned into this pattern that it is hard to have any type of advantage over any other team. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time. I have never won a restrictor-plate race that paid points. I won the Shootout (Sprint Unlimited) before, I’ve won a qualifying race in Daytona, but I’ve never won a points-paying race.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine