Showers, Playoffs and Transitions Abound in April
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (April 17, 2012) – The month of April always brings to mind the notion of showers that will result in flowers in May. For the sports-minded folks in the world, it takes on an entirely different meaning. The thrill of the college basketball tournament has concluded with a new champion being crowned. Major League Baseball has kicked off around the country. The NHL playoffs have begun and the NBA’s regular season is winding down with the start of its postseason games just around the corner.
For the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series however, the month of April is a transition month. The season is no longer new, having been in action for almost 60 days. Daytona Speed Weeks is in the history books. The “West Coast Swing” of races has been completed and the series has settled into a steady rhythm as far as weekly racing goes. During this early part of the season, some teams have charged out of the starting gate, stringing together a collection of wins and top-five finishes and find themselves on solid ground when it comes to the championship point standings. Some teams may not have been as fortunate and have struggled trying to find the right combination to be competitive on a consistent basis. Then there are teams that have had such a horrible run with bad luck striking at every turn that the proverbial “it’s better to have no luck than the luck we have” becoming their motto. By the time the month of April concludes, the Sprint Cup Series is on the brink of reaching the 13th race of the season, indicating the halfway mark to the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and team find their championship aspirations are being tested.
With all of that in mind, the series travels to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for this Sunday’s STP 400. This weekend’s race is the first of two hosted by the Midwestern track. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet, will make his 13th career start at the 1.5-mile oval. The No. 51 Phoenix Racing team has been among those that have been slapped with a number of unfortunate developments early in the 2012 Sprint Cup season, including accidents in the season-opening Daytona 500 and during the closing laps of the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas.
Despite the rough start to the season, Busch and the No. 51 Chevrolet team have enjoyed highlights, as well, including the most recent race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where Busch scored a 13th-place finish. In fact, the team has experienced its most successful races at the intermediate tracks early in this 2012 NASCAR season. Busch scored a season-best ninth place at California four weekends ago. Although the finishing position didn’t show it, the team qualified 12th and was racing in the top-10 at Las Vegas two weeks prior to that before pit road troubles, a tire issue and an eventual accident eliminated Busch from the race. The team has another opportunity to gauge its intermediate-track program this weekend at Kansas.
While Busch has yet to find victory lane at Kansas, he has been able to compete at the track with a consistency that has resulted in only four finishes that have been outside the top-14. Busch has one pole at Kansas, scoring the top starting spot during the June race last season. The Kansas pole was the first of three consecutive poles Busch scored during the month of June in 2011. Additionally, he has been running at the end of every race in which he’s competed at Kansas but one, which ended prematurely with an engine failure during the 2003 race.
The 2012 NASCAR season is still very young and, as it continues to unfold, many teams will make transitions. Busch and the No. 51 Chevrolet team hope to make a variety of transitions, including the transition from racing in the top-20, to competing consistently in the top-10, to contending for wins.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
What are your thoughts about racing at Kansas this weekend?
“As far as intermediate tracks go, it’s been one of the tougher tracks for me. When we raced this race last year, we started from the pole and actually led the most laps. We took the same setup back in the fall and ran 25th with it. The conditions were as different as we have ever seen with the warmer temperatures racing there in the summer last year. It was the first hot race of the year and I think it caught a lot of people by surprise. For us, we hit it just right. So, I’ve got those notes that we’ll try to blend with what we have learned so far this year at the intermediate tracks with what we take to Kansas. At the same time, though, we hope to get to do the tire test this summer because it will be a brand new track when we go there in the fall.”
Will this race be similar to that race in June last year?
“I really don’t think so. I think the track conditions will head back to being more of what we are used to when we race at Kansas in September or October.”
What’s the toughest part about racing at Kansas?
“To me, it’s the seams in the track. I’ve called them the tar stripes of death and the track president actually got on me about it. The car just slides sideways when you have to drive over those seams where they put the tar down. So, you have to pick a lane. You have to pick the low lane, middle lane, the third lane up, or even the high line. But just don’t touch those strips of tar.”
We don’t race this part of the country much. What’s it like when we visit a track like Kansas?
“We get a lot of fans from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa – a lot of great Midwestern folks there and it’s a nice atmosphere. Kansas seems to always have a great crowd. It’s the home for Sprint, so that makes it nice, too, being in the backyard of our series sponsor.”
What are the plans for Phoenix Racing for the rest of 2012?
“I’ve had a handshake agreement with (James) Finch to run the full season since December. We’ve talked and that hasn’t changed. Do we need sponsorship? Absolutely. There’s a lot that goes into making a team successful and sponsorship is a major part of it. I think you’d have to go pretty far back in history to find a team that has contended for wins on a consistent basis or a championship without sponsorship. We’ve had a handful of races sponsored this season and both Finch and I are working on some things that will help us out as the year goes on, but the search for sponsorship is ongoing. We’re coming off of the race at Texas. We had one of our best performances and finishes of the season, where we beat a lot of bigger and better-funded teams. Hopefully, there are companies out there considering our sport and they’re paying attention to what we’re accomplishing. Like a lot of people these days, we’re doing more with less. In the meantime, we’re going to keep working hard each and every week to get the best result we can, on the racetrack and off.”
How much different has this season been for you with Phoenix Racing, so far?
“This has been a year with different challenges, but the goals are still the same. Everything with this program is straightforward. It’s what we have. We get cars, motors and some body support from Hendrick Motorsports but, at the end of the day, it’s still what you do with the people you have. Being a team that only has 18 employees, we’ve got to get the best out of every guy, which makes the appreciation level for that hard work even greater. I think every guy on the team literally has three jobs. We’ve had our struggles this year, but we’ve had some good moments like our races at California and Texas. I think, at the end of the day, the good days are that much sweeter because of how much harder everyone here has to work to get the job done.”