LONG POND, Pa. (July 29, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch enters Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 in the "Keystone State" hoping for a "cornerstone run" to lay the foundation for the remaining 16 races during the 2008 NASCAR season. If...
LONG POND, Pa. (July 29, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch enters Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 in the "Keystone State" hoping for a "cornerstone run" to lay the foundation for the remaining 16 races during the 2008 NASCAR season.
If history has anything to do with it, there is probably no better race track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit than Pocono Raceway, where Busch will be making his 16th career start this weekend, for him to accomplish that goal.
After all, Busch has two wins, seven top-five finishes and eight top-10s in his first 15 starts there. Furthermore, those two wins along with four of the top-fives and five of the top-10s have come in just the last six races on the tricky triangular-shaped track located in the scenic Pocono Mountains. During that stretch, Busch has finished outside the top-eight only once and he carries a 5.0 average finish over that period.
"We just need to get it turned around," said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champ, who finds himself 18th in the point standings and 281 points out of "Chase eligibility" with only six races remaining to determine the 12 drivers who'll compete for the 2008 Sprint Cup title. "I know how kind that place (Pocono Raceway) has been to me through the years and we sure could use another good shot of that kindness this weekend."
After winning at New Hampshire International Speedway on June 29 and backing that up with a solid fourth-place run at Daytona on July 5, Busch experienced engine woes at Chicago on July 12 and finished 28th. He crashed early in last Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard "tire-gate debacle" and finished 40th. After the great finishes at New Hampshire and Daytona, he was 191 points out of 12th in the standings with eight races remaining to make up the deficit.
"We certainly lost a lot of ground during the last two races and Sunday's disappointing day in the Brickyard (400) at Indy pretty much ended any chance we had to make the Chase," said Busch. "But you keep the attitude of never saying never and you keep on trying hard as you can till the end. All you can do is keep plugging away at it and do the best that you can.
"We've had a really strong showing in the Pocono races, especially during the last few years," said Busch. "We won the July race in 2005 and finished second in both races there during my first year with Penske (2006). We come in there as the defending champions this weekend as we won there again last August. We had a strong top-10 finish there just last month. If we can just keep up the competitive strength we've been able to display there, we should be in the thick of things again on Sunday."
Entering this weekend's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, Busch has a 14.2 average start and an identical 14.2 average finish in his 15 races at Pocono. That is quite impressive, considering he has three DNFs (did not finish) along the way.
"Ever since I ran there back as a rookie in 2001 I have really liked the Pocono track," said Busch. "It's a challenge that I always enjoy. Through the years, it seems like we always get a big boost every time we race there.
"Last year, Pocono was big for us when it came to the big picture, that's for sure," said Busch. "But, I have to look back through all the years we've raced there and consider it as one of my strongest tracks overall. We didn't make the Chase back in 2006, my first year with Penske Racing, but I have to point to the win we had that year at Bristol and the two runner-up finishes we had at Pocono as the season's top competitive highlights.
"The biggest confidence-builder for me this weekend is that we ran the COT model cars there back in the June race and we were pretty competitive from the time we took the car off the trailer until the very end of the race," said Busch. "Throw into the equation that we're bringing the exact same car we raced there last month (the PSC-550) back this time around. We ran this car at Darlington, Pocono and Chicago and have a good feeling it can get the job done for us this weekend."
This weekend's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 race weekend at Pocono Raceway gets under way on Friday with practice set from 12 noon until 1:30 p.m. Friday's single round of qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m. and will determine the entire 43-car starting field for Sunday's race. Saturday's schedule calls for practice from 10:00 a.m. till 10:50 a.m. and the final "Happy Hour" practice session from 11:20 a.m. till 12:20 p.m. Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 (200 laps/500 miles) has a 2:00 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.
--Kurt, Pat and crew are racing their "PSC-550" Miller Lite Dodge Charger this weekend. The car debuted at Darlington on May 10 where Kurt started fifth and finished 12th. It was raced at Pocono on June 8 (started 11th and finished eighth) and again at Chicagoland on July 12 (started 18th and finished 28th). "The biggest confidence-builder for me this weekend is that we ran the COT model cars there back in the June race and we were pretty competitive from the time we took the car off the trailer until the very end of the race," said Kurt. "Throw into the equation that we're bringing the exact same car we raced there last month (the PSC-550) back this time around. We ran this car at Darlington, Pocono and Chicago and have a good feeling it can get the job done for us this weekend."
--It should come as no surprise that Kurt, Pat and crew always look at Pocono Raceway as a "user-friendly" track. After all, in only his fourth start at Pocono, Kurt started 23rd but pulled out a second-place finish.
"That was the race where it started really late and it rained off and on all day long," Kurt recalled. "It was a strange race. Steve Park had this huge crash on the first lap and it took more than an hour for them to fix the outside barrier. We led late in the race and then it got even stranger. Rain came and they red-flagged it for another two hours.
"We had climbed to fifth with about 60 laps to go and were running third with 50 laps remaining when the final caution came out," Kurt said. "Just after that restart NASCAR told the teams that we'd be racing to Lap 175 instead of going 200 laps due to darkness setting in. We got up to second and were closing in on the leader (Bill Elliott) when the laps ran out. If we'd gone the distance that day, it could have been our first Pocono win way back then."
--Who can ever forget the importance of last year's edition of the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway? Kurt, Pat and crew recorded a record dominating win in that race. Kurt took the lead from pole-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the first lap and went on to lead a record 175 of the 200 laps that comprise a 500-mile Pocono race. He lost the lead only during green-flag pit stop segments and after a slow pit stop with 60 laps remaining under the fifth yellow-flag period of the race.
The end result saw Kurt use the Pocono victory to leap-frog over Earnhardt in the point standings to the 12th spot, the final position of "Chase eligibility." He would never look back during his quest to make the 2007 "Chase." Kurt was up to 10th in the point standings when the "regular season" ended after the September 8 Richmond race and, after claiming two wins, was seeded fifth entering the 10-race battle to the 2007 championship title.
--Kurt finally divulged his "double-secret getaway spot" where he spent the final "off weekend" of the schedule two weeks ago...well almost. "We hit the sand dunes with our four-wheelers," Kurt said. Naturally, most people hearing those words assumed that his group took a quick trip back out west to his regular spot in the desert between Las Vegas and Baker, Calif. "The dunes out there were pretty much a secret for years, but now everybody and their brothers know where they are," Kurt said. "We actually found some great dunes on the East Coast. We'll just keep it on the down low and say, 'yeah, it's the sand dunes right over there on the Outer Banks...'"
--Kurt and Eva recently joined the equestrian crowd, acquiring a show horse named "C.J." "Eva has already spent a good deal of time riding," Kurt said of the seven-year-old Arabian. "It's the oldest breed and they are known for their strength, courage and stamina. C.J. has already thrown a right-front horseshoe. We're planning on getting it and bringing it to the race track for good luck. Pauline (Bostic, coach driver) found one several weeks back and brought it to the New Hampshire race. We all know what happened there. Eva may ride C.J. in some shows on down the line."
--Kurt will be celebrating his "big 3-0 birthday" next Monday (August 4).
--Betcha' didn't know...the word "Pocono" comes from the Indian word "Pocohanne." Translated it means "A stream between mountains."