Busch's concentration is solely on NASCAR, says Indy 500 will have to wait.
FONTANA, Calif. – Kurt Busch’s current game plan is “to take it one step at a time”.
For now, his strategy is paying off.
Since his return to Sprint Cup competition at Phoenix last weekend, the No. 41 Haas Automation team has shown tremendous speed. Not only has the former Sprint Cup Champion remained on the left side of the speed chart he’s remained towards the top.
And Busch’s performance at Auto Club Speedway is no exception. Actually, exceptional would be a better description for the Tony Gibson-led team.
Busch posted the fastest lap in all three practices. Although Matt Kenseth had the quickest lap in the first round of time trials on Friday, Busch topped the second round and won the pole - his fourth on the two-mile track.
A winning strategy
After the team debrief on Saturday, Busch told Motorsport.com there’s a strong group of racers up in the top five “and it feels good” for the Nos. 4 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing teams to be among the fastest cars in the field.
It always comes down to those restarts at the end. When do you pit? Do you put two tires on?
“Tomorrow will be a long day of rim-riding along that fifth lane – that’s what I call it – it’s the fifth seam all the way up by the wall,” said Busch, who won here in 2003. “We’ll have a great pit box – with it being the first pit box –for yellow flag stops. Hopefully, it’s a position gainer.
“But it always comes down to those restarts at the end. When do you pit? Do you put two tires on? I hope we’re in a position to put four tires on and take some of the guesswork out of it but we’re trying to make our cars as universal as possible – short-run speed, long-run speed and two tires, four tires. We just want to make it ready for anything.”
A fine line
As drivers searched for speed throughout the final two practices, Busch set the example to follow. Conditions at the start of Sunday’s race will be similar to Happy Hour but Busch knows the key to victory will be the ability to adapt to the changes with the track.
That’s what is so cool about this track is if someone is blocking the first two lanes on the bottom, then you choose lane three, four or five up top.
“There will be shade that develops in (turns) three and four,” Busch said. “Kevin Harvick rides that highline. I like the low line early on. (Denny) Hamlin is fast. The 48 (Jimmie Johnson) is fast. And you go where the other guy isn’t.
“That’s what is so cool about this track is if someone is blocking the first two lanes on the bottom, then you choose lane three, four or five up top. If you’re restarting in six and you’ve got guys going low and going high, go in the middle and see what you get.”
Where the rubber meets the road
Last year, Busch experienced one of the 13 tire failures that occured over the course of the three-day Fontana event but no issues have been reported in 2015. Goodyear developed a new left side tire that features a different compound and construction to provide better grip and durability.
While the cars will require fresh tires long before the 40 to 45 lap fuel window, Busch doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“Tires all looked good across the whole Stewart-Haas fleet,” Busch said. “I think the left-side tire was a good pick from Goodyear. It’s going to alleviate some of that left-side trouble. We’ll have to see where our air pressures go down to. NASCAR has allowed us to go as low as we want so the risk is in the teams’ hands.”
Indy will have to wait
One thing Busch doesn’t want to risk in the early goings of his return, is the momentum he has built with the No. 41 team. Although there had been talk of Busch returning to the Brickyard in May for another run at the Indianapolis 500, Busch, who finished sixth in his debut, says his focus is strictly on NASCAR for now.
It’s all about the 41 car, this group of guys and for Gene Haas.
“It’s all about the 41 car, this group of guys and (team owner) for Gene Haas,” Busch said. “He’s believed in me and supported me through all of this and it wouldn’t make much sense at this time to venture off into any other type of motorsport other than get this 41 car back up into the points, challenge for wins and make ourselves Chase eligible.
“We’ll see. We’ll see how it pans out. I really enjoyed it. I accomplished a lot. And it would be a shame if I didn’t cash in on the experience that I have and knowing what I know now versus what I didn’t know going into the event last year.
“If it pans out, it would be next year for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.”