CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY PERFECT LOCATION FOR BUSCH TO BOUNCE BACK -Miller Lite Dodge Driver Has Strong Record On 2.0-Mile Track; Team Ready For Strategic Challenge- FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 22, 2006) -- With such a strong California Speedway career...
CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY PERFECT LOCATION FOR BUSCH TO BOUNCE BACK
-Miller Lite Dodge Driver Has Strong Record On 2.0-Mile Track; Team Ready For Strategic Challenge-
FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 22, 2006) -- With such a strong California Speedway career record behind him, it's easy to understand why Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch can't wait to get back to the 2.0-mile Fontana track for this weekend's Auto Club 500.
"I've loved racing at California Speedway ever since my first race there in the trucks back in 2000," said the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, who won the pole and the race in the October 2000 season finale for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "It seems like I just immediately adapted to the place. I loved the fact that it was long and wide, with multiple racing grooves. Racing out in the West just always seems to get me extra pumped.
"Daytona is behind us now and our Miller Lite Dodge team showed such great potential down there," said Busch, who looked to have a car capable of winning the season-opening Daytona 500 before getting bumped into the wall late in the race. "We're coming into California with our heads still held high, knowing that we can get the job done and bounce back in the points.
"We won the Cup race at California in 2003 and, with just a little luck, we could be sitting here with more wins at that track entering this weekend," Busch offered. "It seems like several of the California races have come down to the end with strategy determining the winner.
"That's another reason I'm so confident coming back to California," said Busch. "The two Penske teams showed just how well we can work together at Daytona and we're confident that established a precedent for the rest of the season. I've always looked at Matt Borland (Penske teammate Ryan Newman's crew chief) as one of the best strategist in Cup racing. That No. 12 team has certainly won their share of races by making the right decisions on pit road at the end of races.
"Roy and I have talked a lot about it already," Busch said of his crew chief, Roy McCauley and the race tactic aspect. "He says he can't wait for a chance to make those strategic calls and I have a world of faith and trust in him. Roy and Matt have always worked great together and they both stay so cool under pressure."
"I think we really learned a lot in our first race together at Daytona," McCauley said. "We certainly had a driver and a car capable of winning and I think everyone knows that.
"I was extremely proud of the team cohesiveness we displayed at Daytona and that will be even more important at California Speedway this weekend," continued McCauley. "With it being the first 'downforce race' of the season, everybody is so interested to see how all the manufacturers stack up.
"We're taking the (PRS-) 89 car out for the race. It's the '04 model Dodge and has a brand new body on it. The first laps it'll have on it this year is when Kurt heads out to the track to practice there on Friday.
"As far as race strategy goes, I've learned so much from so many people," said McCauley. "Matt has been a great influence and so was Mike Beam. But the guy who has made the biggest impact on me so far in my career was Jim McGee, who was the team manager and crew chief when I was at Patrick Racing back in my Indy Car days. Jim taught me so much. I learned from him that you have to always be thinking and planning ahead. You have to be able to look at the many scenarios you may encounter, come up with your strategies and pick the one that best applies to the situation you're faced with. Jim was so good at doing that.
"Kurt's had a terrific career so far at California and we're determined to give him a car capable of winning and a total team effort supporting him," McCauley concluded. "We're really looking forward to this weekend."
Busch's California Speedway career record sports the 2003 victory, along with a runner-up finish in 2002 and a third-place finish in last year's Auto Club 500.
Busch started the 2003 race from the 16th spot and led two times for 27 laps en route to his sixth career Cup victory. He took the win by 2.294 seconds over runner-up Bobby Labonte.
"We started back there, but came straight up toward the front," Busch recalled of the race on April 27, 2003. "We had a strong car and ran in the top five all day long, but we all looked to be chasing the 20 car (Tony Stewart). When he blew an engine, it all came down to having a fast pit crew. They got me out first during the final yellow (on Lap 231) and we just motored on to win that one. We didn't lead many laps, but we led the ones that counted most.
"In the first California race last year, it came down to all kinds of strategies playing out at the end. We'd made contact with the wall over in Turn 4 early in the race and almost went a lap down, but came back really strong after tweaking the car back in shape. We'd worked our way back up to second behind the 29 car (Kevin Harvick) when the final yellow flag flew (on Lap 217). The 29 hit pit road and so did most of the cars behind us. We stayed out and so did Greg Biffle, who was running right behind us. It was a pretty good balance out there with the strategies. Some of the guys took two tires, some took four and then it was Biffle and me staying out. There were about 30 laps to go and Biffle got by for the lead about seven or eight laps into the run. We were able to hold the rest of them off until the very end, when the 48 car (Jimmie Johnson), who had taken on four fresh tires, got by us for second as we came out of Turn 4 for the flag.
"That race back in 2002 was another perfect example of how important strategy can be in the California Speedway races," said Busch, who started second and finished as the runner-up to Johnson in the race on April 28, 2002. "We had the strongest car there that day -- just dominant -- but came up just a tick short at the end. We'd led the most laps (seven times for 102 laps) and at one time had an 18-second lead, but it all came down to what happened after the final pit stop. We went with right-side tires and fuel and some of the guys stayed out. We restarted fourth and just ran out of laps before we could overtake the 48 car for the win." (Busch was fourth on the final restart with 14 laps remaining and managed to climb back up to second before having to settle for the runner-up finish, running only 0.620 seconds behind winner Johnson at the stripe.)