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 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City fresh off an eighth-place finish in Sunday’s 500-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. A respectable start to the Round of 12 in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but an even stronger one given the big picture.
It was a race in which the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion was able to overcome an ill-handling racecar, issues on pit road and damage sustained in a multicar incident. In addition, five of the 12 Chase contenders struggled with a myriad of issues. As a result, Busch enters Kansas with a 24-point cushion over ninth-place driver Austin Dillon. There couldn’t be a better time and place for Busch to turn in another solid finish than at Kansas, a track that has presented its fair share of challenges to the Las Vegas native but where his recent success has him feeling very optimistic.
Kansas has been a racetrack for Busch that has been complicated and vexing, but his three most recent finishes there have been entirely respectable – eighth, sixth and third. So, while he has yet to find victory lane there, he has been able to compete at the track with the kind of consistency that could cement his Chase advancement.
Busch has one pole at Kansas, scoring the top starting spot in June 2011. The Kansas pole was the first of three consecutive poles Busch scored that month. Additionally, he has been running at the end of all but two of the races he’s competed in at the 1.5-mile oval, the first of which ended prematurely with an engine failure in 2003, the other due to an accident in October 2014.
Busch’s record shows he has a knack for success at the eight mile-and-half venues where the Sprint Cup Series competes. Six of his 28 career victories have come at four of those tracks – three at Atlanta Motor Speedway and one apiece at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch is still searching for victory lane at the remaining four – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois; Kentucky Speedway in Sparta; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; and Kansas.
While a win would guarantee his advancement into the Round of 8 with some serious bravado, if Busch can turn in another performance this weekend at Kansas like he had Sunday, he would find himself in the envious position of not having to worry about what lies ahead at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, host of the third and final race in the Round of 12. Superspeedway events can produce wild, unpredictable racing with the possibility of large, multicar accidents at any moment, known as “the big one.” They eliminate large numbers of drivers from contention prematurely or, as is the case this year, from championship contention.
So, while a breakthrough victory at Kansas would add to the list of successes the Las Vegas native has experienced in his career, it would do much more than that for his 2016 championship hopes. A win this weekend would guarantee him a spot in the Round of 8 no matter what happens in next week’s daunting elimination race at Talladega.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Kansas hasn’t always been a strong racetrack for you but, as of late, that seems to be changing. Do you agree?
“Kansas has been a good track and a tough track. It’s fun to go race there and, with the way that the tires change and the downforce has changed, I haven’t quite found that perfect combination to win. But, as of late, we consider it one of our strong tracks.”
What has been the key to your three top-10 finishes in your three most recent starts at Kansas?
“I think it’s a matter of being on the right pit strategy and understanding when to pit for the final time. Track position becomes so important at these fast mile-and-a-half tracks that, if you are stuck around 10th or 12th, there is no way to crack that top-five. You’ve got to be there before the final sequences start. But, honestly, a big part of it has been having this great car setup by Tony Gibson and everyone on the Monster Energy/Haas Automation team.”
What is one part of the racetrack or your driving style that you’ve had to work on at Kansas over the years?
“It always seems like turn four is the toughest part about Kansas, whether it’s the wind angle or the sharper corner exit with the SAFER Barrier jumping out at the cars. You either lose a lot of time or gain a lot of time in turn four at Kansas.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine