MOORESVILLE, N.C. (May 2, 2012) – A “wise” man once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” And while West River, N.C.’s Richard “Ricky” Bobby was speaking eloquently about racing in general, he could very well be describing the always exciting and breathtaking NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Talladega plays host this weekend to the Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race and, at 2.66 miles in length, Talladega is the largest track visited by NASCAR, surpassing Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the two road courses at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. So, it’s like Mr. Bobby’s ego – larger than any on the circuit.
When people think about Talladega, they think of speed and tightly grouped packs of cars. The lead tends to get swapped a lot and, for 188 laps, the 43-car field continually walks a fine line when it comes to being either under or out of control. Additionally, there’s always the chance that a driver for one of the smaller teams will break through for a win to become the season’s Cinderella story.
It was this race three years ago where Phoenix Racing became Cinderella. In April 2009, Brad Keselowski wheeled the James Finch-owned Chevrolet to victory lane at Talladega after starting ninth. Keselowski led only one lap in the race, but it was the most important lap – the last one. With that win in the team’s back pocket, Phoenix Racing and its new-for-2012 driver Kurt Busch head into Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 with an elevated level of confidence.
Or, as Bobby would say, “They are winners! That is how winners talk!”
While none of Busch’s 24 career Sprint Cup wins have come at Talladega, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion has come close to notching a victory at the ultra-fast superspeedway tri-oval. Aside from finishing third four times at Talladega, Busch has scored six top-fives and 13 top-10s. He’s led at least one lap in 18 of his 22 career Sprint Cup starts at the track and has failed to finish only four times, with each DNF (Did Not Finish) the result of a late-race accident. And, in the last 14 races at Talladega, Busch has spent the most laps in the top-15 (1,621) and is second in the number of green-flag passes made (4,792).
Busch and his Phoenix Racing team head to Alabama looking for a game-changing win. And they know that despite the close racing, there can be only one winner. For, as Bobby memorably told his friend Cal Naughton Jr., “You can’t have two number ones,” to which Naughton replied, “Yeah, because that would be 11.” And they don’t give trophies for 11th.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
What are your thoughts about racing at Talladega this weekend?
“It’s pretty safe to say we get excited when talking about racing at Talladega, especially for all of the guys on this Phoenix Racing team. Obviously, this place is special for the team because it’s where it got a win in 2009. Much like Daytona, we go into this race with a little higher expectation because anything can happen. With the rule changes and the way the sport has evolved, it’s easier for smaller teams to have a great chance of winning at tracks like Talladega and Daytona.”
Because of the team’s win at Talladega in 2009, is there a greater emphasis on this race?
“Well, the team works hard every week but there is certainly a greater sense of excitement and anticipation. (Team owner) James Finch is full-tilt when it comes to places like Daytona and Talladega. These are the tracks where there’s extra effort with us also running the Nationwide Series car this weekend. Obviously, as we saw at Daytona, anything can happen. We got wrecked on lap one and basically just had to log laps for the rest of the race. But it’s still nice to get ready for this weekend knowing the car is going to draft well and has Hendrick power under the hood. We may not qualify well, but we know we’ll race well and that’s more important. I’ve been racing at Talladega for years, so when you add that up with the way Finch’s cars run there, it does make it one of the places we’ve circled on the calendar and we look at these opportunities to crack into victory lane.”
How will this race differ from Daytona?
“I think it will most likely be more of the same. As things stand now, the rules will be the same, so it should be an exciting race. There should be a lot of pack racing and, hopefully, it’s a good show for everybody in the stands and watching at home.”
So, what are your thoughts on the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday?
“I think we look at that the same way we do the Cup race. We go in knowing we have a shot at the win. We came close in Daytona. Kyle (Busch) was pushing me in Daytona when I was driving the HendrickCars.com Chevy for Finch. We were a few hundred yards away from finishing one-two, or at least wrecking each other coming to the line. We all know how that turned out but, again, it gives you that confidence going into the race this weekend, knowing what you have to work with.”
How special was it to get the win in the Nationwide Series last weekend at Richmond, where you were driving for your brother’s team, Kyle Busch Motorsports?
“It was unbelievable. It’s good to get to victory lane and do it with Kyle. As a family growing up in racing, you do a lot of different things. And you’re there to always support each other. To have Kyle stick his neck out and tap me to drive for him and Monster Energy, and to do this as two brothers racing hard, it’s an unbelievable feeling with all of the hard work, dedication and belief in each other. It’s been tough at the start of the season because you can’t go up against these powerhouse teams right away and expect to do well and win. We expected to do well, but it’s been a tougher fight. Now, to get to victory lane in the seventh race, it just puts it all together in light of how hard it is, and it’s a very gratifying feeling to get the win, finally.”