Busch Ready for Speed Weeks at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8, 2011) - Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge out of the Penske Racing stable, says that Speed Weeks 2011 at Daytona International Speedway could present the most excitement that fans have witnessed since the track staged its first stock car race back on Feb. 22, 1959.
"It will be wild and wide-open racing, that's for sure," said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion who will be competing in both the Feb. 12 Budweiser Shootout and Feb. 20 Daytona 500 on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. "With the new pavement, you can pretty much throw the handling aspect out the window."
After being the subject of much scrutiny due to delays brought about by track surface issues during last year's Daytona 500, track officials launched the first repaving project since 1978 immediately after last July's race. Busch says the lightning-fast new surface will usher in a new set of demands for the drivers and teams during the two weeks of competition.
"It'll be all about raw speed and how well you can run in the two-car draft," said Busch, who will be competing in his eighth career Budweiser Shootout and 11th career Daytona 500 during this month's action on the track known as "The World Center of Speed." "You have to still be in that survival mode because there are going to be so many cars going every which way there."
If it comes down to a two-car draft determining the winner in the Daytona 500, Busch and his teammate, Brad Keselowski, could offer a powerful Penske Racing "one-two punch" based on the results of last month's (Jan. 20-22) Daytona testing. Hooked up in a draft on the final test day, the Penske pair recorded the fastest overall speeds turned in and were the only drivers to top the 198 mph mark. Keselowski clocked in with a lap of 198.605 mph (45.316 seconds), with Busch, who was pushing, turning in a 198.579 mph (45.322 second) lap.
"The two Penske teams, the 'double-deuce' and the 'deuce', worked extremely well together during the January test and we really have a great baseline to work with when we get back down there this week," said Busch. "We know we can count on Brad as a drafting partner for the 500, but the Shootout will be another challenge. We'll go in there with no teammate and the only Dodge team, but I'm sure we'll be able to find another driver we can hook up with and run well with.
"It's one of the most unique feelings, when you hook up in the two-car draft, because there's a lot of responsibility in both parties," Busch said. "The key benefit is how much more speed two cars together can run compared to the multi-car draft. It's just so fast. Drivers like to go fast, but it's wild to see the closure rate you have on the guys not connected in a two-car draft. When Brad and I hooked up together, the lap times were a full four seconds faster.
"How guys can manage the two-car draft, that will definitely be the way to win at Daytona," Busch added. "With the smaller plates, (NASCAR reduced the holes in the restrictor plates from 30/32nds of an inch to 29/32nds during the January test) you don't have to worry about tires and you aren't concerned about the car's handling such as was the case on the old racing surface. It's all just about the raw speed and hooking up with your drafting partner.
"When you're connected in the two-car draft, you never slow down. You just keep on running nose-to-tail. But you have to really keep an eye on the gauges and be ready and willing to switch positions in order to keep from overheating and damaging the engine. I made the comment at the test that it's almost like learning to dance, and this is a new dance for everybody. I think our Penske teams have done well with learning to understand this two-car breakaway. There's still more to learn, though, and we're ready to get back at it down there this weekend."
In his seven prior Budweiser Shootout starts, Busch's best result was a third-place finish in the 2007 edition. Overall, he has one top-five finish and three top-10s. He started 22nd and finished 23rd in last year's Shootout. Busch had climbed to seventh before getting pinched into the outside wall on the 32nd lap and relegating him to the garage.
Busch may still be looking for his first Daytona 500 win, but no competitor without a victory has come any closer. Busch finished second in the 2003 edition of the Daytona 500 and backed that up with a similar impressive statistic in the 2005 edition of the race. His most current and most revered runner-up finish at Daytona came in the 2008 Daytona 500. That race saw Busch push Ryan Newman, then a teammate at Penske Racing, across the finish line to score the first Daytona 500 (and first-ever restrictor-plate race) win for Roger Penske's high-profile racing organization. Overall, Busch has recorded four top-five finishes and five top-10s in his 10 career Daytona 500 starts.
"This is my sixth year driving for Penske Racing and I'd like to say I've got my best opportunity to try and break through and win one of these plate races," Busch said. "I've got a great crew behind me. We have the super new look with the Shell and Pennzoil colors. We've got a charged-up attitude this year; committed to going out there and being the best we can be as a team."
-source: penske racing