Kurt Busch seeking another win at Fontana

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Phoenix Racing press release

KURT BUSCH
The Rush for Gold is on at Auto Club Speedway

Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 20, 2012) – “Eureka” is a Greek word that, when translated to English, means “I have found it.” Legend has it famed Greek mathematician Archimedes is said to have exclaimed “Eureka!” when he finally discovered a method for determining the purity of gold. The word has since become the state motto of California, referencing the discovery of gold in early 1848 in Coloma, Calif. The discovery of gold prompted the ballyhooed California Gold Rush, in which more than 300,000 were lured to the state’s sunny shores in the hopes of striking it rich. The days of digging for gold in California have long since passed but thousands of people still trek to the Golden State in hopes of striking it rich in other ways, whether it be in film, music, sports or other mercurial entrepreneurial methods.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch has struck gold a few times at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and in a variety of ways since becoming a regular in NASCAR’s top touring series in 2000. Busch had only one “dig” at the 2-mile track in Camping World Truck Series competition and that was during his rookie season. He found instant success, starting from the pole and leading 20 of the 100 laps run en route to the win.

Busch came back to Fontana one year later, this time competing as a Sprint Cup Series rookie. He walked away with a respectable 13th-place finish after starting the day from the 32nd position. That one race paid dividends the following season when Busch returned to earn a starting spot on the front row. He dominated the event, leading a race-high 102 laps before settling for a runner-up finish.

The third time would wind up being the charm for the Las Vegas native. After starting from 16th place, Busch raced at a steady pace, claiming the top spot for the first time on lap 131 of the 250-lap event. Busch would relinquish the lead after 15 laps and settle into a comfortable pace. As the race wound down, Busch surged back to the lead on lap 239 and never looked back, leading the final 12 laps to the checkered flag.

While Busch hasn’t won at Fontana since that April day in 2003, he’s continued to strike gold in other ways, such as leading at least one lap in nine of the next 15 Sprint Cup races run there. In addition to his win, Busch’s Fontana stats include four top-five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s been the model of consistency at Fontana, completing all but four of the laps run in Sprint Cup competition since 2001 for a lap completion rate of 99.9 percent. He also earned the pole for three of the four Sprint Cup races run during 2006 and 2007.

Like California dreamers did more than 150 years ago, Sprint Cup teams will make the trek westward looking to strike gold again during Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana – the black-and-white, checkered flag variety that is the gateway to victory lane.

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet Impala for Phoenix Racing:

What are your thoughts on racing at Fontana?

“It’s a tough track with trying to find the right balance. You carry so much speed going down the straightaways fast with it being at a 2-mile track but then, when you get into the turns, you basically get the feeling of being at a short track with just how tight the centers of the corners are and the lack of banking. It’s a challenge in getting your car to turn so you’re able to get back to the gas as quickly as you need for those long straightaways. So you have the balance of downforce versus drag but, anytime you have to lift out of the gas and you can’t hold it wide open, you need the downforce. We’re going with the best car we have. We were hoping to take our Vegas car to California but it didn’t make it through the race. So, are we behind the eight ball? Maybe. But, again, we’re going with the mentality of, ‘You work as hard as you can with what you have,’ and we’ll shoot for a top-15 finish.”

How much has this track changed through the years?

“It just gets bumpier each year and then the asphalt chews up the tires really quickly. So you end up getting about five good laps out of the tires and then you’re out there sliding around for 40 laps. You really have to keep the car neutral to slide it around just right.”

What do you make of your early success at Fontana in both the Sprint Cup and Truck series?

“It’s a track that, for whatever reason, came to me right away – winning there in the Truck Series in 2000 and then the Cup Series in 2003. I think I just had a feel for the speed you have to carry through the corners there. In 2003 in the Cup car, it really kind of came to me and I just figured out that it’s a place where you have to get through the center of the corner. You get your left-side tires below the yellow line in the turns and, if you’re able to get back to the gas, there’s nobody who’s going to beat you back to the start-finish line if you can go wide open right then and there in the center of the corner.”

You’ve got a lap completion rate of 99.9 percent at Fontana. How have you maintained that consistency over the years?

“It’s a track that’s very generous with how wide it is and where you don’t really run into any trouble very often there. It’s not easy to stay on the lead lap but it’s 2 miles around there and lap times are 40 seconds-plus so, if your car isn’t handling exactly right, you can still maintain pace. Stay on the lead lap, stay out of trouble so that when you get to the end, you can race them hard.”

How hard is the beginning of the season with the back-and-forth between the East and West coasts?

“It’s just the fun of our schedule – the beginning of the season with a lot of travel. It’s kind of hard to get into a rhythm, so you just end up going with the flow. The crew guys are wrenching all week until they fly out and will show up on Friday morning – probably still living on East Coast time. It’s just one of those things where you can’t wait to get to Texas for the season to kind of really settle in. It’s the fun part of the year with lots of travel and a variety of racetracks. It would be a lot tougher if it were the middle of the summer – which wouldn’t work, anyway, because you can’t race in the desert southwest in the summer. But it’s the beginning of the year and you have all of that energy with the hope and optimism of a new season to carry you through this stretch.”

You have a busy week ahead of you following the event in California with the upcoming Armed Forces Foundation Gala.

“I’ll be on a red-eye flight Sunday night back to the Washington, D.C., area, where I’m actually meeting up with Ron White the comedian and his group to go to Walter Reed (Hospital), where we’ll be visiting some of our wounded soldiers that Monday morning. I just asked that they schedule it right away because, if I’m back on a red-eye flight, I’ll just get “Monstered up” (referring to Monster Energy Drink) and head to the appearance so I don’t end up taking a nap on Monday morning because it will take an extra day to get acclimated to the East Coast. Then, on Tuesday is when all of the special VIPs show up for the gala, so we’ll be entertaining folks and going back to Walter Reed with the NASCAR group. We have the gala event that evening and then I’ll be up and at it bright and early on Wednesday morning with interviews on CNN to promote more about the event, the support we received from the congressional executives and other guests. We’ll be thanking them and creating more awareness for the Armed Forces Foundation.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags auto club speedway, busch, chevrolet, phoenix