Feast or Famine at Martinsville
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – After a quick glance at the results at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), it’s fairly easy to see why he has a love-hate relationship with the Virginia short track.
He has endured times of feast and famine at the .526-mile paperclip. In 31 starts at the shortest track on the Sprint Cup circuit, Busch has two wins, three top-five finishes and five top-10s. It’s the other finishes that have been less than kind to Busch. Those are the results that have played a part in making his average Martinsville finish 21.5, which happens to be his worst of the active tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Busch scored his first Martinsville win in October 2002. It was his second career Sprint Cup victory and a record-breaking one, at that, as he took the green flag from the 36th starting position – the deepest in the field a Martinsville winner had ever started. Busch was able to take advantage of a strong racecar and work his way to the front of the field, leading 111 laps en route to the win, which came in just his fourth career start at Martinsville in Sprint Cup competition.
Fast-forward to March 2014, when the 2004 Sprint Cup champion was able to end an 83-race winless streak by claiming his second Martinsville victory. The win was special for Busch, but was even more so for Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, who co-owns SHR with three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. When Haas hired Busch, his directive was clear: win – be the guy to finally place the Haas Automation-sponsored Chevrolet SS in victory lane. Victory had eluded the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World for 114 races and 11 different drivers since 2002.
Despite the lack of results there that one would expect from the Las Vegas native, Busch has made the most of his races at Martinsville by being listed as running at the end of all but two of his 31 starts there. He has completed 15,086 of the 15,534 laps run during that span for a lap-completion rate of 97.1 percent. So while strong finishes at Martinsville may not occur with regularity for Busch, he always seems to make the most of what he’s got. Also in his favor is crew chief Tony Gibson, who also has a win to his credit at Martinsville as he led Ryan Newman to victory lane in April 2012.
While he has experienced success at Martinsville, Busch would still label the Virginia track as his own personal Achilles heel. As the series travels to Southern Virginia for Sunday’s Martinsville 500, Busch will hope to continue on his impressive start to the 2016 season. With four top-10 finishes in the first five races, the No. 41 team is already focused on gaining the wins and consistency it will need over the next 21 races in hopes of once again joining the 16-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk a little bit about Martinsville. Is there a reason that the track suits you?
“It’s been a good track to me over the years. It’s one of those tough tracks, though. Short tracks, things happen. Things move quickly. I think it has to do with level of patience and technology advancements each time we race at Martinsville. Sometimes the racecar drives very differently. Some of the old patterns that we all learned as short-track racers apply, but you have to apply them in different ways.”
Talk about the evolution from a time when brakes were the most important thing to now where it’s all about finding grip.
“Technology has advanced so far to where the brakes aren’t necessarily an issue. It used to be that brakes were the main concern. You had to make sure you saved them, that you didn’t wear them out and that you had them for the latter part of the race. Now, with newer technology, the brakes don’t seem to have as many issues, but it’s a matter of how much you can get out of the rear tires for grip, which has always been an issue at Martinsville, trying to get that traction out of the corner and down the straightaway. For me, it’s all about corner exit. It’s trying to get that traction put down and trying to turn underneath another car to complete a pass.”
What is it that makes Martinsville such a special racetrack?
“I know that everybody looks forward to coming to Martinsville to see the action at a short track. It’s very different than all the other racetracks on the circuit because of the intimate setting. Pit road, the racetrack, the fans are right on top of it and, as drivers and teams, you feel that intensity from the fans and so it’s great to have their passion. And the ability for the fans to be so close to the action at Martinsville, that’s what makes this place so unique.”
How much more important is track position at a place like Martinsville?
“Track position is everything, everywhere but, at Martinsville, it is just so easy to lose it. It doesn’t take much to find yourself going backward, whether it’s a situation with someone bumping you out of the way or you get too high on the track and up in the marbles. Then, deal with what that does to the tires and, boom, next thing you know, you may have had a 10th-place car and now you are 18th. It’s a goal all day to work your way forward and then just to have smooth pit stops to carry you through those midpoints of the race. Then, at the end, when everything is on the line, you have to be aggressive and you can’t be afraid to use the fenders on people to get that solid finish.”
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