KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races 39 times a year – 36 points-paying events and a trio of non-points events in the Sprint Unlimited, the Can-Am Duels at Daytona and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. That 39-race schedule takes competitors to a wide variety of venues, from short tracks to intermediate tracks to superspeedways to road courses. The majority of those events take place on tracks labeled as ovals. In fact, series competitors race on oval tracks 94.8 percent of the time. That means Sprint Cup regulars compete on road courses just 5.2 percent of the time or, to put it another way, a whopping twice in 39 events.
With so few road races, it would seem they’d be mere blips on the radar relative to the entire Sprint Cup schedule. But that just isn’t the case and, oftentimes, the road courses have been the setting for some of the most dramatic and exciting events in any given year.
This weekend, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) would be hard to overlook as a favorite. After all, he’s enjoyed a fair share of success on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Twice he’s raced his way to victory lane. However, those wins have come on Saturdays in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series, in which he’s also earned three poles and a third-place finish. Now he’d like for some of that success to transfer from Saturday to Sunday, and he’d like nothing more than to accomplish that this weekend and earn his second Sprint Cup victory of the 2016 season.
In NASCAR’s top series, the Las Vegas native has experienced a bit of a dry spell at The Glen. His best result in his 15 visits on the Sprint Cup side is a second-place finish in 2010. He owns three top-five results there, and two of them have come in his two most recent starts.
The legendary road course’s long straightaways and fast, sweeping turns have proven their difficulty for some of the sport’s greatest drivers. Recent series champions Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth are all winless at the 2.45-mile venue. Road racers Boris Said and Ron Fellows have fallen short in their numerous bids to upset the series regulars. Busch, Kasey Kahne, future SHR-teammate Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are among those who have victories at Sonoma but are winless in their attempts to conquer The Glen.
Busch’s win at Sonoma came in 2011. After qualifying 11th, he took the lead for the first time on lap 13 and he stayed there for the next 19 circuits. Busch relinquished the lead twice for scheduled green-flag pit stops but took over the top spot for the final time on lap 88. He would lead the final 23 laps for a total of 76 laps led en route to the victory – his first and only Sprint Cup road-course win.
Busch would like nothing more than to add a victory at Watkins Glen to his already impressive resume this weekend in the second and final road-course race of 2016. Now that the Las Vegas native knows he’s all but assured of making his 10th career and fourth consecutive appearance in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship 10-race playoff, he can turn his focus to going all out and racing for additional wins in the final five regular-season events.
Another win would greatly improve the Haas Automation/Monster Energy team’s standing in the Chase field 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 Chase. Busch and the No. 41 team will put all their energy, focus and determination into finding their way to victory lane once again. Busch hopes his past successes at the New York road course will finally translate into a long-overdue Sprint Cup win, which would also bolster his position in the Chase.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You tested at Watkins Glen last week. Talk about the changes you saw, and what you think we’ll see on Sunday.
“The surface was getting old and some of the patchwork that they had to do was starting to rip up over the years. So, it’s a brand new asphalt surface, brand new curbing all the way around the racetrack and so, with something new, it is going to create a whole different environment for us to race on. That’s why the fans are ready to come to the track to see the different action that’s going to happen this time around.”
What would it mean to earn your first victory at Watkins Glen Sunday?
“Well, it’s fun just to race at Watkins Glen. It’s a very historic and national type of road-course circuit. Just to have the chance to be there in 2016 on the fresh repave, I will always get to say that I was out there on that surface and tried to shoot for the win.”
Talk about the test last week.
“Just drove up from Watkins Glen, spent two days testing working on brakes, working on new transmission ratios. Just trying to get a feel for the new surface. The Goodyear tires are a very conservative tire with a new surface. They are lasting a long time, but it’s like you’re on ice the first few laps. There are going to be a lot of things the drivers have to balance this time around. Racers always want the softest, grippiest, gooiest tire that will stick to the asphalt. But when it’s new asphalt, it is hard to judge how abrasive it’s going to be and how it’s going to chew up the tires. So, Goodyear just came with a conservative tire. That way, we are not going to have any tire issues, but it just provides for a lack of grip early in the run.”
How long do you think the tires will last?
“I’d say to about halfway. There’s definitely going to be a time when you have to change them or, if you have an issue or spinout or something, you’ll definitely have to change the tires.”
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