KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kurt Busch’s last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came six races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Wheeling a red and black No. 41 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Busch started ninth and overcame team and fuel challenges to capture the victory.
Busch ran inside the top-10 for the first half of the race, then steadily moved into the top-five for the second half of the 160-lap race. The critical stretch came with 40 laps to go when, on lap 119 interim crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, filling in for the suspended Tony Gibson due to a lug nut issue the week prior, took a gamble. He elected to bring Busch to pit road for fuel in hopes it would take the No. 41 to the finish. But, by Klausmeier’s calculations, Busch likely would be two laps shy of making it to the end.
He restarted third after the final caution of the race, then made a bold move to pass Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott as the three Chevrolets exited turn three. He eventually made the pass for the lead in turn one. From there, Busch was not only able to keep the lead, he was able to save enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag and still have enough for his celebratory burnout on the frontstretch.
The victory tied Busch with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rex White for 25th on the all-time series win list, and it all but secured his spot in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. While there’s still plenty of racing to be done between now and Nov. 20, when the championship is decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Las Vegas native has been relieved of at least a bit of pressure. Knowing he’s likely headed into the postseason, Busch and his Gibson-led crew can race aggressively for additional wins.
And that’s exactly what they’ll look to do at this weekend’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono, when the driver of the Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet will look to complete the season sweep at the 2.5-mile triangle, a racetrack where he’s now won three times.
In addition to his three wins, Busch has two poles, 13 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s in 30 career starts at Pocono. Busch has led laps in 19 of those races, including a record-setting 175 circuits spent atop the leaderboard en route to his win in August 2007.
A return to Pocono couldn’t come at a better time for Busch. While his win last month put him in prime position for a 2016 Chase berth, he will be able to clinch his spot with a second win.
With little to worry about in terms of making the Chase thanks to his Pocono win last month, the 28-time Sprint Cup race winner will look to officially secure his playoff berth and earn additional points for the postseason as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the postseason at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What did your most recent win at Pocono mean for you?
“Well, it’s special anytime you win. For Tony Gibson (crew chief) to be out because of a lug nut issue, we had to overcome a lot. Johnny Klausmeier, our interim crew chief, our lead engineer, he stepped up and, when you do that, it makes you really feel that team comradery, that team chemistry and that team effort. It’s awesome to have a team that week-in and week-out can be competitive and can overcome adversity like that. It was our first win in the Sprint Cup Series for Monster Energy, and that was really special, as well.”
What makes Pocono so unique?
“Just the fact that it’s different in the way that each of the straightaways has its different length, the corners have their banking. It’s not a typical oval in that you get to shift at an oval track. It blends a lot of road-racing techniques into an oval technique.”
What is the one thing you know you are going to have to work on when you return to Pocono?
“The one thing you know is shifting. You have to work on that. But, each time we go back, the setups change so rapidly that you have to find the right setup to gain the speed, whether it’s turn one, turn two or turn three. Each time there, you have to challenge the track and the car’s technology.”
Of the three turns, which is the most important to you, and why?
“It’s weird, I’ve had winning cars there a few different times and turn two always feels the best when my car has a chance to go to victory lane. But, I think turn three, if you are able to pass cars and maneuver around them, you’ve got to get a good run off turn three to be ready to pass them in turn one. All of them are important. You can’t exclude one from another.”
Last time at Pocono, the restarts were crazy to watch. How were they from the driver’s seat?
“Yeah, restarts at Pocono are always crazy, two-wide, three-wide, five-wide. If the guy in front of you doesn’t get going, do you challenge him to the inside or to the outside? Do you push him? But, you’ve got to watch in the mirror if guys get a run on you because they will swallow you up quick and, the next thing you know, you are in the wrong groove getting into turn one.”
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