KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads into this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn knowing he is already locked into the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship by virtue of his victory at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June and by having secured enough points to lock himself inside the top-30 in points. All he needs to do now is start the final three regular-season races and he will go on to make his 10th career and fourth consecutive appearance in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
But Busch is one of five drivers currently inside the top-30 who have just one win in 2016. As each of 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 would like nothing more than to score an additional win, or wins, before the Chase begins next month at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. That all starts this weekend at Michigan, a track where Busch has won three times. He’ll do so with the goal of improving his Chase standing, but also as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition for next year, as the race will mark the final test of the provisional 2017 rule package.
The rule package has been implemented twice in points-paying races – when the Sprint Cup Series first visited Michigan in June, and at Kentucky Speedway last month. Busch scored finishes of 10th and fourth in those races to give him an average finish of seventh, which ties him with SHR teammate Kevin Harvick for fourth-best in those races behind Brad Keselowski’s 2.5, Carl Edwards’ 4.0, and SHR teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart’s 6.0.
Busch feels confident heading into this weekend’s race based on his success thus far with the rule package, but also with his previous success at the 2-mile oval. He scored his first Michigan win during the track’s June race in 2003, leading 23 laps along the way. He scored his second Michigan win with more of an exclamation point by leading a race-high 92 laps on Aug. 21, 2007. In his most recent win, Busch overcame adversity by winning the rain-shortened Michigan 400 in June 2015 after starting 24th in a backup racecar.
In addition to his three victories, Busch has a pair of poles, having earned the top starting spot for the track’s June races in both 2010 and 2011.
So, this weekend, the 28-time Sprint Cup race winner will look not only to earn additional points for the postseason, but also to build a notebook he and his Tony Gibson-led team can begin to develop for 2017. The Las Vegas native hopes to find himself in a similar position this time next year, contending for another Sprint Cup championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You have five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes at Michigan. Why has it been such a strong track for you?
“The biggest thing about Michigan is respecting the speed. It’s a very fast racetrack. With the way the rules are shaping up with lesser downforce, it’s important we stay focused on our plan. This week is a little bit different because it is the 2017 rules package and we want to make sure we stay on top of it and get the best effort we possibly can.”
What is the key to getting around Michigan?
“Michigan is a tough place because of the way the cars have that grip level on fresh tires versus old tires. What I mean by that is, when you put on fresh tires, your tires are cold and they don’t grab the asphalt as well. A lot of guys try to stay out at Michigan with the hot tires on and they get better restarts. Restarts at Michigan are already pretty wild with how wide the track is and how many lanes there are for options. It comes down to just trying to put yourself in the best position with the best-percentage chance of whether it’s fresh tires, or it’s staying out, or it’s making spots up on restarts.”
What is the toughest part of the track for you?
“The toughest part, I think, is turn three. It seems like the cars do this weird, four-wheel, light drift getting down in there. If your car is dialed in, and I’ve won there three times, it feels like turn three is the easiest corner. Turn three to me is the challenge each time I go there.”
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