Busch Poised to Clinch Chase Spot in Atlanta

Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge
Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Ted Rossino

HAMPTON, Ga. - Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch enters this weekend's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the magic number being "49." Busch needs to be 49 points ahead of the driver holding down the 11th position in the standings when the dust settles after Atlanta's race on Sunday night in order to clinch a spot in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Currently 60 points ahead of 11th-place (Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Busch can guarantee a top-10 spot in the points (and earn a Chase berth) with at least a finish of seventh; or eighth and lead at least one lap; or ninth and lead the most laps.

"We're in a pretty good situation as far as making the Chase in Atlanta and that's a big feather in our cap," said Busch, who claimed the NASCAR Sprint Cup title in the first year of the Chase format back in 2004. "It'll be a big deal for all the team sponsors and everyone involved with our ‘Double Deuce' Dodge Team to make the Chase again this season. It has come to be a measuring stick for the level of success a team has during a particular season. Making the Chase is like placing the stamp on the year as officially being successful.

"That said, it's like accomplishing the first goal of the weekend at Atlanta in making the Chase again," Busch added. "The bottom line is that we also have to look at the Atlanta and Richmond races as opportunities to get additional wins and accumulate the bonus points for when the clock goes back to zero and the points are reset. Heading into Chicago and the opening race of the 10 races that make up the Chase, it would be huge to have more wins and get seeded higher when the Chase begins."

Busch emerged the winner in the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Championship back in 2004 in the tightest Chase battle to date. Busch was seeded seventh (of the 10 drivers that season...expanded to 12 drivers in 2007) entering the 2004 Chase and trailed first-place Jeff Gordon by 30 points.

He entered the season-ending race at Homestead, Fla., with an 18-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. In one of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history, Busch started from the pole and finished fifth in the Nov. 21, 2004 battle. It was enough to allow him to clinch the first "Chase format" title by eight points over Johnson. He survived a near catastrophic situation when he lost the right front wheel while running second on Lap 94. He just missed hitting the barrier at the pit road opening and the team was able to bounce back and finish fifth. -more-

Since his dramatic run to the 2004 Championship, Busch has been a competitor in four of the six other editions of the Chase, finishing 10th in the final standings in 2005, seventh in 2007, fourth in 2009 and 11th last year.

"We're definitely coming back into Atlanta hoping to enjoy the level of success we have in recent races there," said Busch. "But, when you look at the record, you'll see that we have had our good runs during the day races there and haven't had that level of success in the night races, although we did finish sixth there last fall.

"So, we're coming in with a realistic level of optimism," said Busch. "We expect to do well and look to be really competitive this weekend, but we know it will be a challenge. Winning the two spring races-in-a-row at Atlanta like we did in 2009 and 2010 definitely puts a little more confidence into our step coming back in there. But, we've seen week in and week out this season just how much things can change on a weekly basis. We understand the challenge that we're up against.

"While we know we can lock up a spot in the Chase there in Atlanta on Sunday night with a good finish, we still have to be in the mode of doing what it takes to win and bank us some more bonus points to help with our seeding when the Chase kicks in," said Busch. "There are several guys out there with more than one win like we have and we need to get ourselves up there with them during these next two races."

In 20 career races at Atlanta, Busch has recorded three wins and a like number of top-five finishes. He has eight top-10 finishes. He has a 15.8 average start and an 18.0 average finish. He has been running at the finish in 17 of those races and finished on the lead lap in 11 of the races.

Busch certainly knows what he's up against in this Sunday's battle at A.M.S. "Atlanta is just a really tough and challenging mile-and-a-half track," said Busch. "It's different from the other tracks that length in that the speeds are high and you really barrel off down into the corners. The pavement is really getting worn. You can put on new tires and you are really fast for five or six laps, but it's so different running out there on 40-lap tires and that's what's so challenging. You have to have your car still handling well enough to be competitive under those conditions, because you're just slipping and sliding everywhere."

Busch and his Steve Addington-led No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge Team will be racing their "PRS-750" Shell-Pennzoil Charger this weekend at Atlanta. This is the chassis the team debuted in the May 29 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch started 26th in that race and led nine laps en route to a fourth-place finish.