DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 3, 2007) -- When one looks at Kurt Busch's Daytona statistics, it should be easy to understand why the Miller Lite Dodge driver is looking forward to Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. After...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 3, 2007) -- When one looks at Kurt Busch's Daytona statistics, it should be easy to understand why the Miller Lite Dodge driver is looking forward to Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
After all, Busch finished third in last year's edition of the race, he led the most laps and he was a true contender to win in his last visit to the 2.5-mile Daytona track for February's season-opener, and he finished third in the most-recent restrictor-plate race.
"We've had Saturday's Pepsi 400 targeted for a long time now as a big race for us -- one that we've really been looking forward to," said Busch, who enters this weekend 15th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings and 236 points out of "Chase eligibility" with nine races remaining to determine those 12 drivers. "We've been so strong in these plate races and have come so close to getting that breakthrough win.
"We've led a lot of plate-racing laps, particularly at Daytona, and we've been in a position to win. We finished third at Daytona last July and led the most laps with a car capable of winning during the Daytona 500 back in February. You always hear that if you're knocking on the door and you keep knocking hard enough and long enough, sooner or later you're destined to break on through.
"We can't wait to get back down there this weekend. I think we had our best chance ever to win the Daytona 500 and we think we can be equally strong this time around. You always hope you're in position to win one [plate race], and that day I was in position. The big deal is that you've got to get to the end. We [Busch and Tony Stewart] were definitely the class of the field, but when you wreck and a couple of other fast cars wreck it opens it up for somebody else to win.
"We had a great Daytona Speedweeks until about 50 or 60 laps to go in the 500. We were running behind Tony and I got him aero loose. He checked up in front of me, and I bumped into him. It looked awful, but I did all I could to stay off of him. It ruined both of our chances to win the Daytona 500. I felt bad for him. He's been a good ally on the plate tracks and hopefully, we will be able to continue to help each other out in this type of racing.
"I felt bad for my team and my sponsor Miller Lite and Dodge and everybody that's involved with our team. Even though it isn't the Daytona 500 we're running this weekend, it is still a big race. It's a Saturday night, under the lights, with prime time TV coverage. We're hoping to make our fans, sponsors and everyone proud of our team this time around at Daytona."
Busch started 16th and battled back to finish a strong third in last year's Pepsi 400.
"It was a total team effort there last July," Busch said of the race in which the team overcame radio problems early on and electrical problem during the middle portion to see Busch post another top-five finish. "We had a battery go dead halfway through the race. We had to make a pit stop, under yellow of course, and worked our way through that. We made adjustments on the car all night and to bring home our Dodge with a third-place finish, the best Dodge; it was a great race for us."
Perhaps what makes Busch among the top competitors in restrictor-plate racing is his true love for the white-knuckled, three- and four-wide by 10-deep, nerve-racking type of competition always associated with the four races staged every season on the mammoth tracks at Daytona Beach and Talladega, Ala.
"The truth is that I really enjoy plate racing," said Busch, who finished third in his first-ever Cup restrictor-plate race at Talladega on April 22, 2001. "It's a different kind of challenge than what we do during the other 32 races of the season. There's a big mental demand and it'll wear you out, but the biggest thing about that type of racing is it truly is a total team effort.
"I've heard plate racing referred to as a high-speed chess match on wheels and that's a pretty good description, I think. But at the same time, I have enough experience at the track and respect for the other competitors that I realize it can also turn into a scene that could be depicted as 190-mph Russian roulette."
Saturday's Pepsi 400 marks the first restrictor-plate race and Daytona visit for Pat Tryson as crew chief for Busch and the No. 2 Miller Lite Penske Racing Dodge team, and he is anticipating this weekend's return to Daytona as much as his driver.
"I've always thought of Kurt as being one of the best plate racers in the business," said Tryson, who now has two races under his belt as the team's leader. "I can't wait to get to Daytona and get after it. I've always felt that the drivers who excel in plate racing seem to all carry positive attitudes about it. Kurt and our team come into Daytona knowing we can win and confident that we can get the job done.
"I got even more excited about this weekend when Troy [Raker, former interim crew chief] and Brian [Wilson, team engineer] told me that we were going to be able to bring the Daytona 500 car back for this race," Tryson said of the team's PSC-068 Dodge Charger. "The team took the car back to the shop after February's race and completely overhauled it. They put a new body on it and ran it back through the wind tunnel. It continues to come back with the best numbers, so we'll be back down there with that same chassis again this weekend."
Busch's overall Daytona career record boasts five top-five finishes in 13 races. He started 34th and finished second in his only Daytona NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event. He also has runner-up finishes in two of his three Daytona career IROC races. Busch's overall career restrictor-plate race record sports 11 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 26 races.