A Return to ‘Coldlanta’
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 23, 2016) – Atlanta’s nightlife and abundance of activities in which to participate while in the popular Southern city have earned it the nickname “Hotlanta.” The nickname also refers to the hot summer temperatures typical in the Southeast. But Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is looking forward to returning to Atlanta during one of the colder months.
That’s when the 37-year-old driver has been most successful there, as of late. In his last two spring Atlanta starts – March 2009, March 2010 – Busch has found victory lane. He’ll look to do so again this weekend when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its second stop of the 2016 season.
In addition to that pair of wins, Busch won at the 1.54-mile oval in October 2002. He’s also accumulated five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 24 starts there. Perhaps more importantly, in his last six Atlanta starts, Busch hasn’t finished worse than 13th. In fact, the Las Vegas native has secured one win, three top-fives and four top-10s in those last six races.
Busch would like nothing more than to score another win in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 to record his fourth Sprint Cup win at Atlanta, which would virtually lock Busch and his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation team into the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With the 16-driver Sprint Cup championship format, scoring a win virtually guarantees a driver and his team a berth in the Chase, provided they are among the top-30 in driver points.
Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 will present a new challenge for many of the Sprint Cup drivers, as it will mark the first race with the 2016 low-downforce rule package. That the race will be contested on one of the fastest, oldest and slickest mile-and-a-half racetracks will present one of the biggest challenges of the season very early on.
It will likely cause headaches for drivers and crew chiefs alike as they attempt to figure out how to maximize the handling of their cars from the beginning to the end of each run, let alone the entire race. Fortunately for Busch, he and his Tony Gibson-led team participated in a preseason test session with the new downforce package at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which they hope will give them an edge on the competition.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk a little bit about racing at Atlanta.
“It’s a tough, tough race. The asphalt is worn out and the tires have a hard time maintaining pace. All of those factors combined make this a very challenging race. I won a couple of spring races in a row at Atlanta in 2009 and 2010 – races when it was nice and cool out. It’s a very different racetrack in cool and hot conditions. The practice sessions seem very limited when we’re there, so you’ve got to unload fast and stay fast.”
So this is a place where the driver may play a bigger role than the aerodynamics typically needed at most intermediate tracks?
“I think so. It’s an intermediate track because of its size and the banking, but it really is more of a driver’s track because you have a lot to balance there – aerodynamics, pit strategy and tire management.”
You have often said that Atlanta is one of your favorite tracks. Why is that?
“It’s just because of the tire management element the track brings into the equation. If you take a look at them, most of the tracks that are in the Southeastern part of the United States really chew up the tires. Charlotte used to be that way before the track was repaved, and it’s starting to come back to that. You have Darlington, which has that reputation and, even though we don’t race there anymore, Rockingham is another track that was like that. And then you have Atlanta. It’s just one of those tracks. It’s fast. It chews up tires and you have to run up by the wall to manage your tires the best.”
What’s the most difficult thing about Atlanta?
“I think one of the biggest things that can be tough at Atlanta is getting your car to handle in turns three and four. It’s very specific. You really need the car to hook at the bottom of three and four, particularly when you’re on fresh tires. If you have a car that can run the bottom close to wide open in three and four, then that’s when you can separate yourself to be a race-winning contender.”
Do you look forward to the low-downforce package? A lot of people say it allows you to showcase what you have.
“Oh, absolutely, hands down. Last year when we tried it at Kentucky, it was thumbs-up. Darlington was even better with a softer tire. If I had to walk into NASCAR’s office and give them one recommendation off of what we’re seeing thus far, come July, chop more downforce off it because we’re going to get softer tires, we’re going to end up in warmer months, we’ve got to take care of these tires. We need less downforce or less weight in the cars.”
Tire management has always been a huge factor at Atlanta, but we’ll debut the low-downforce and softer tire combination there this weekend. How much will that factor in?
“I’m hoping that the low downforce brings it back more into the drivers’ hands and makes you think about how fast you want to go at the beginning of a tire run because you’ll pay a penalty at the latter part. I don’t know if it’ll go that far, if we’ll get to that level of detail, but it’s always great when you have tire management, and that’s something we haven’t had in our sport in a while.”
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