Gaining Ground and Closing In
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (May 9, 2016) – “We are good, we are doing everything right, we just have to find that last little step to be great. Tony Gibson (crew chief) really knows how to lead these guys and we are just knocking on the door in all the right areas. We just have to put it together for that total piece. We are so far the best car that hasn’t won a race and I know, if we keep this effort up, it will come to us.”
Those were the words of Kurt Busch following the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City Saturday night. After equaling his season-best performance with a third-place finish, Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) knew they were oh-so-close to scoring their first win of the 2016 season.
Even though they have yet to make it to victory lane, Busch and the No. 41 team have consistently been one that cannot be overlooked. Busch is off to one of the strongest starts of his NASCAR career, having scored more top-10 finishes through 11 races than any of his previous 15 seasons of full-time Sprint Cup competition, and he enters this weekend’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism ranked fifth in Sprint Cup points.
Since finishing a disappointing 30th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on March 20, he’s been closing in on his first win of the season. With the exception of that less-than-desired finish at Fontana as a result of contact from another driver, he hasn’t recorded a finish worse than 13th, and has five top-10 finishes in as many races. The string of steady performances has Busch sitting as the highest-ranked driver in points still seeking his first win of the season.
Heading to Dover, Busch is looking to continue his 2016 consistency. The high-banked, concrete mile oval has been a site of victory for the Las Vegas native, and while it may not be one of his strongest tracks of late – Busch’s best finish in four starts there since joining SHR is 17th – he does have reason to believe this weekend may put an end to that streak as his teammate Kevin Harvick turned in a dominant performance when the Sprint Cup Series last raced there in October. With the information sharing between the Nos. 4 and 41 teams, Busch stands to benefit from that performance this time around.
Regardless of the outcome in Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism, Busch will be keenly aware of the information that can be gleaned from this mid-May race at Dover. The series will return to the ultra-fast oval in October for the third race of the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and, as a driver who can be considered all but a lock to make the 16-driver playoffs, Busch will be learning valuable information during each lap of practice, qualifying and the 400-lap Sprint Cup feature knowing it can be applied to the first cut race of the elimination-style Chase.
This weekend, Busch hopes to continue building on his consistency and finally breaking through to victory lane for the first time this season. After all, he knows another win at Dover will solidify the No. 41 team’s 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is it about Dover that makes it such a challenging racetrack, and what do you have to do be successful there?
“The tough thing about Dover is things happen so quickly. At any moment at any time, somebody can spin in front of you or you can lose control off the corners and you are going to wreck. There is no real forgiveness about Dover. That is what makes it tough. To be good there, you have to be good on corner exit. The track really rubbers in so you can see the concrete change to black as the weekend progresses. On corner exit, you get really tight or really loose. The time I won there, I could almost hold it wide open on corner exit. That is what you’ve got to have.”
Do you feel it has earned its nickname?
“It’s called the Monster Mile for a reason – the track can chew up cars and spit them out. It’s because of those tough transitions into the corners with the high banking and even the high-banked straightaways. It’s tough to do that sharp of a turn on a mile racetrack. It’s like you literally jump down into the corner and then jump back up out of the corner onto the straightaway, and so those points of the track are the toughest part – the transition from straightaway to corner. It’s a fun track to drive.”
How physically demanding of a racetrack is Dover?
“You’re just on edge there and, the speed that you have to carry on corner exit, you’re right there at the wall every corner exit and you do it 800 times with 400 laps and two corner exits. That makes it tough. This race will wear you out, for sure, and you have to pace yourself.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine