Kurt Busch Ready for 2011 Chase For The Championship
JOLIET, Ill. (Sept. 13, 2011) - Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch enters this weekend's Chase-opening Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway confident that his Steve Addington-led "Double Deuce" team can be a contender down to the wire for the championship.
"It's been a great consistent season for us so far," said Busch, who enters Sunday's race tied for fifth in the reset points standings. "We've been in the top-10 in points all year due to a strong start at Daytona. We had excellent Speed Weeks with a shot to win the Daytona 500, winning the Shootout, our Duel, and we started off the season strong with good consistent runs and qualifying has been a strong suit for us a well. As of late, we've had really solid pit stops and making good adjustments on the car, especially most recently with the last two races.
"I look at it as if our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team is bringing a lot of momentum into the opening race this weekend at Chicago," said Busch. "We're coming in there with two top-fives back-to-back. I feel solid with what our team has now and we just have to work at it for 10 straight weeks. It's a long 10 weeks but we can be focused because we're determined to do it."
Busch claimed the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship title in 2004 during the inaugural Chase format season. He won the title by eight points over Jimmie Johnson. Busch has now earned spots in six of the eight editions of the Chase. He was also Chase participant in 2005 (finished 10th in the final standings), in 2007 (finished seventh), in 2009 (finished fourth and last year (finished 11th).
"I've definitely seen it from both ends and I know from experience how incredibly important it is to get off to a good start in the Chase," said Busch. "Once that green flag falls at Chicago on Sunday to officially begin the Chase, the race really is on. It's not too hard to measure the importance of getting off to a good start and begin logging those top-fives and top-10s. A win or two sprinkled in there sure does help solidify things. The biggest fear is having a DNF (did not finish) by getting in a crash or having a blown engine. That can be devastating, especially under the new points system.
Busch certainly knows from personal experience the highs and lows associated with the opening Chase races. After all, he did win the Chase opener at New Hampshire during his 2004 successful run to the points title. The very next season, he was caught up in an early crash and finished 35th. It was the beginning of a long slide down to a 10th-place finish in the point standings.
"During our championship season back in 2004, we were strong from the drop of the green flag and it only got better from there," said Busch. "We won the New Hampshire race and went on down the road on a big roll. We finished top-five at Dover and did the same at Talladega the next week.
"We went on a roll of nothing but top-fives and top-10s through the first six races and built up such a points lead that we were able to hang on and pull it out by eight points over Jimmie (Johnson) to win the battle for the title, even with the big setback with the blown engine at Atlanta.
"But under the new format this year, you have a DNF like that and you're probably doomed. I look at it like you'll probably need to have like a seventh-place finish or so to win the Chase this year. When you think about the big picture for 10 straight races, you could look at anything from a 15th-place finish on back as being a bad day at the track.
"It's going to shake down as 10 straight weeks of hard racing," said Busch. "It'll be a pressure-cooker situation all the way to Homestead. You'll have to take it one race at a time, but be on the conservative side in order to have a good big-picture day in each race. When it gets down to the end of these things, you can't step over the line in order to just get one position. You could do that in a situation like racing for the sixth spot late in a race. You could wind up getting into the wall and instead of finishing seventh, you could wind up 37th. That would be devastating.
"We're entering the Chase with everyone on the same page," said Busch, looking to notch his first top-five finish at Chicagoland (the only tracks where he has yet to score a top-five are Chicagoland, Kansas and Kentucky). "It's going to be a huge bonus in having my teammate (Brad Keselowski) in the Chase with us. Both teams working tightly with open communications between the drivers, crew chiefs and engineers will be a great environment for the Chase. This will be the first time since 2005 that both Penske Racing drivers are in the Chase and it'll be cool to not be out there going at it alone like we've been doing. We can both be out there pushing each other to excel."
The reset point standings for the Chase sees Busch enter Chicagoland tied for fifth position (with Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson) with 2003 points. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are at the top of the standings with 2012 points each. Jeff Gordon is third with 2009 and Matt Kenseth fourth with 2006.
Busch and his Steve Addington-led Penske Racing "Double-Deuce" team will be racing their "PRS-756" Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. "It's the car that we raced at Loudon (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) back in July (the 7/17 LENOX Tools 301)," offered crew chief Addington. "We started fourth, led a bunch of laps and were running fifth on the final lap when we ran out of fuel. We had to coast to a 10th-place finish. That's the only time we've raced this car and have really been looking forward to bringing it back out again."