DOVER, Del. (Sept. 18, 2007) -- "I just can't wait to get back to Dover for this weekend's Dodge Dealers 400," Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch said Monday night. That statement may sound strange coming from a driver who is still looking for...
DOVER, Del. (Sept. 18, 2007) -- "I just can't wait to get back to Dover for this weekend's Dodge Dealers 400," Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch said Monday night.
That statement may sound strange coming from a driver who is still looking for his first NEXTEL Cup win and pole after 14 career starts on the track known as the "Monster Mile." It may even be taken as extremely bizarre considering what happened to Busch during his last visit to the 1-mile track.
"Our COT program just gets stronger and stronger," said Busch, who enters Dover 12th in the point standings, trailing co-leaders Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon by 102 points. "We had a top-five car there in the spring race before the incident took us out of the running. We've made such improvements since then that I'm confident we'll have a car capable of winning this time around."
What about the "incident" that eliminated Busch from the competition during the June 4 Autism Speaks 400 at Dover?
"I look back on that race now and I have to point to it as a major turning point for our season," said Busch, who bounced back with an incredible nine-race stretch to make this year's Chase for the NEXTEL Cup championship. "It definitely was a tough turning point and maybe in the past it would have made the team or me crumble and not make some changes. It was a perfect example of, 'We've got to get it in gear and we've got to make this Chase.' It feels like an eternity ago that it did happen because of all the good things that have happened in between.
"As crazy as it may sound, I actually thanked Tony (Stewart) in passing while all of us Chase drivers were gathering on the stage after the Richmond race. I said something like, 'Hey man. Thanks for helping us jump-start our season after the deal at Dover.'
"When you look back at what all has happened with our team since that race, you have to say that it has been a remarkable turn of events. It's simply incredible as to where we are now compared to where we were when we left Dover in June. I'll be quick to admit that I was wrong and I know I let a lot of people down that day, but I also look back and get such tremendous pride for everyone on our Miller Lite Dodge team for being able to bounce back like we have.
"Everything that has happened since then has made us a stronger team and has made me a smarter driver. Our team has bonded so close since then. This team definitely deserves to be in the Chase and we should be looked at as a true championship threat, even after falling behind with the carburetor problem last Sunday at Loudon."
In the June Dover race, Busch and Stewart were involved in an on-track altercation, which led to Busch deciding to discuss the situation as Stewart was pitting. Unfortunately, as Busch pulled alongside Stewart, there were active team personnel in the area.
NASCAR officials immediately parked Busch for the day after only 271 of the 400 laps had been completed, relegating the Miller Lite Dodge driver to a 42nd-place finish. The official reason out posted by NASCAR simply said, "Aggressive."
NASCAR later penalized Busch 100 driver points and issued a fine of $100,000 and placed him on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31, 2007.
"Aggressive" certainly was an accurate description of what was to follow as a determined Busch scratched and clawed his way back from the low point of his 2007 season.
Pat Tryson joined the team as crew chief a few days later and helped Busch launch an amazing comeback to make this year's Chase. Busch was back as far as 16th in the point standings in June and trailed Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 236 points for the 12th and final Chase-eligible spot entering the July 8 Pepsi 400 at Daytona.
With Tryson at the helm of the No. 2 Dodge team, Busch responded with a strong third-place finish in that race and then went on a competitive tear that produced two wins and seven top-10 finishes during the nine-race stretch to make the Chase. Busch finished no worse than 11th during that period and had a 6.2 average finish. He came back from the 236-point deficit to hold a 206-point advantage over the 13th spot after the final "Race to the Chase" event at Richmond. That was a 442-point swing in only nine races, meaning that Busch, Tryson and crew gained an amazing average of 49 points per race.
"Man, I look back now and it seems like the last Dover race was light-years ago," Busch said. "We learned from the experience, for sure, but it's a thrill to see just how far our team has advanced since then. I'm confident that we'll have a really strong car there this weekend and bounce back from the disappointment we had last Sunday at New Hampshire."
Busch's Dover career NEXTEL Cup record boasts two top-five finishes and four top-10s in 14 races. He posted his career-best Dover finish, a fourth, in last September's race. He started 10th in that event and was a fixture among the top-five drivers during the entire race.
"It was a good solid run for us; just what we're looking for this time around," Busch recalled.
Busch and his Tryson-led Penske Racing team will race their PSC-518 Miller Lite Dodge this weekend at Dover. The team last raced the car at Watkins Glen on Aug. 12. The car has since undergone a process of "transitioning" in order to be utilized this weekend at Dover.
This weekend's schedule at Dover begins on Friday with practice from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Friday's 3:15 p.m. single round of qualifying will set Sunday's 43-car starting field. Saturday's schedule offers practice sessions from 11-11:50 a.m. and from 1:50-2:50 p.m. Sunday's Dodge Dealers 400 [400 Laps, 400 miles] has a scheduled 1:30 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC and MRN Radio.