KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), earned a 13th-place finish in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and a fifth-place finish Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. With those results, he is ranked 11th in the point standings and on somewhat solid ground heading into the first Chase cutoff race.
All Busch needs to do this weekend is survive and he should safely advance to the Round of 12. He’s in a tightly contested battle holding a 15-point advantage over 13th-place driver Jamie McMurray, the first driver who would find himself on the outside looking in after the first cutoff race.
That task sounds fairly simple, but one of the most complicating factors is the venue at which this weekend’s Citizen Soldier 400 is contested. Dover (Del.) International Speedway is a high-banked, concrete, mile oval with a penchant for chewing up racecars and veteran drivers alike. It can be one of the more taxing racetracks on drivers and equipment with its abrasive surface and high banking. The “Monster Mile,” as it is affectionately known, is an appropriate nickname considering the speeds carried through its high banks and short straightaways that allow little to no room for error.
Busch has conquered Dover just once in his career, in October 2011. He pulled away from Jimmie Johnson on a pair of late-race restarts to earn his 24th Sprint Cup victory. Since then, he’s had a rough go of it but, when the series last visited Dover in May, Busch was able to overcome a tough day of obstacles to bring home a fifth-place finish. So, it’s his recent success there that has him feeling optimistic heading into this weekend’s cutoff race.
Busch will head to Dover – a racetrack where, in addition to his win, he also owns seven top-five finishes and nine top 10s in 32 starts – in hopes of scoring another win and an automatic transfer into the Round of 12. But he knows if he can have a solid finish like he did Sunday at New Hampshire, his ticket to the next round would be all but guaranteed. So, while he’ll look to earn his second victory of 2016 Sunday, it would not be a disappointment to simply survive at one of the most difficult racetracks on the circuit and advance his championship dreams into the Round of 12.
And if he can do that, Busch knows he’s got just as good a shot as any of the other drivers at advancing to the next rounds and ultimately winning the championship. In a Chase format where anything can happen, the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation team feels it can certainly make a run at the championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is the feeling heading into Dover this weekend?
“Restarts are tough at Dover. You want to make sure you just get spread out and find that spot to protect your racecar and not run into anybody else’s mess. Pit road is tough there. It’s real small, it’s narrow and it’s slow, so it’s easy to speed. Mainly, you are just trying to stay away from any kind of trouble. I won the Chase race there in 2011. My car was just fast on corner exit. That is what you always hope to have – the ability to cut through that corner exit where the track rubbers in.”
What’s it like heading off into turn one at Dover? Do you focus more on corner entry to exit there?
“The drop into turn one is definitely tough. It’s one of the biggest ones we encounter on the circuit. You have to have the car nice and soft when it lands, but then the suspension has to be rigid enough to not allow the car to hit too hard. It’s a nice balance that you have to find at Dover to be successful. Most importantly, though, it is getting that corner exit when the track rubbers in because you can’t get on the tight side.”
Things seem to happen very fast at Dover. Do you approach it like a short track or more like a superspeedway?
“It is more like a mile-and-a-half track. It’s an intermediate-style track even though the lap times are quick and things happen very quickly like they do at short tracks. It has a mile-and-a-half tendency where you get in that rhythm and then you have the aero that you are battling there, as well.”
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