KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), turned in a solid fourth-place finish Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to secure his advancement into the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Busch’s recent performances certainly show things are heating up at the right time as he continues his pursuit of his second championship in NASCAR’s premier series.
And, as the No. 41 Chevrolet SS this weekend wears the colors of State Water Heaters, a leading manufacturer of commercial and residential water heaters, the timing couldn’t be better for Busch and his team’s anticipated heat wave on the racetrack.
State Water Heaters, based in Ashland, Tennessee, has seven water heater manufacturing plants and hundreds of distribution centers across the United States to ensure efficient service to the company’s national customer base of homeowners, wholesalers, contractors and members of the engineering community.
SHR, Busch and State Water Heaters have become champions in their respective trades thanks to their level of commitment. And this weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Busch hopes to celebrate the partnership with some shared success at a racetrack where he’s twice found his way to victory lane.
Busch won his first race at Martinsville in October 2002. It was his second Sprint Cup victory and a record-breaking one, at that, as he took the green flag from the 36th starting position – the deepest in the field a Martinsville winner had ever started. He took the lead for the first time on the 389th of 500 laps and lost it for only one lap the rest of the way. His racecar fishtailed off of turn two several times in the closing laps, allowing Johnny Benson to mount a challenge. Busch ran the final 10 laps with Benson on his bumper but was able to hold on and secure his first win at the .526-mile oval.
Fast-forward to March 2014, when victory lane seemed like an unlikely destination for Busch and the No. 41 team from SHR at the rough-and-tumble .526-mile oval. Busch had a fast racecar, but a pit-road incident came close to ruining the day. Busch’s Chevy sustained damage after drivers Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski collided during a round of pit stops under caution. After an extra trip to pit road for repairs, Busch restarted the race deep in the field – in 38th place. Thanks to a combination of smart pit work and the driver’s on-track savvy, Busch was able to work his way to the front of the field, where he and Jimmie Johnson traded the lead a handful of times over the final 30 laps. Busch took the lead for good on lap 490, holding off a bold move by Johnson out of turn four on the final lap. Busch ended an 83-race winless streak and scored his first victory for SHR.
With this year’s Chase Round of 12 in the rearview mirror and the points reset for the eight drivers still eligible for the championship, Busch heads to Martinsville this weekend looking not only for his second win of the season, but also to accomplish what he did in the opening race of the Round of 12 – to simply maximize his points position by turning in a solid performance.
While a third Martinsville win would add to the list of successes that Busch has experienced at the paperclip-shaped racetrack, it would do much more than that for the Las Vegas native’s 2016 championship hopes. A win this weekend would guarantee him a spot in the final, winner-take-all Championship Round Nov. 20 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And having scored victories at each of the remaining racetracks on the schedule –Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Phoenix International Raceway and at Homestead – Busch certainly can’t be counted out as a threat for the 2016 championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about heading to Martinsville this weekend and kicking off the Round of 8.
“If we can go to Martinsville and win that bad boy, that changes the whole Chase complexion. That’s what happened last year when Jeff Gordon won there. That gave him his shot at the championship. We’re doing our job as a team. We’ve had some luck on our side, and we’ve had good speed in our racecars.”
What is it that makes Martinsville such a special racetrack?
“I know that everybody looks forward to Martinsville to see the action at a short track. It’s very different than all the other racetracks on the circuit because of the intimate setting. Pit road, the racetrack, the fans are right on top of it and, as drivers and teams, you feel that intensity from the fans and so it’s great to have their passion. And the ability for the fans to be so close to the action at Martinsville, that’s what makes it so unique.”
Martinsville has been a good track for you. Is there a reason that the track suits you?
“It’s been a good track to me over the years. It’s one of those tough tracks, though. Short tracks, things happen. Things move quickly. I think it has to do with level of patience and technology advancements each time we race at Martinsville. Sometimes the racecar drives very differently. Some of the old patterns that we all learned as short-track racers apply, but you have to apply them in different ways.”
Talk about the evolution from a time when brakes were the most important thing to now, where it’s all about finding grip.
“Technology has advanced so far to where the brakes aren’t necessarily an issue. It used to be that brakes were the main concern. You had to make sure you saved them, that you didn’t wear them out and that you had them for the latter part of the race. Now, with newer technology, the brakes don’t seem to have as many issues, but it’s a matter of how much you can get out of the rear tires for grip, which has always been an issue at Martinsville, trying to get that traction out of the corner and down the straightaway. For me, it’s all about corner exit. It’s trying to get that traction put down and trying to turn underneath another car to complete a pass.”
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