TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 2, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is probably among the minority as far as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers go entering this weekend's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He is actually looking forward to...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 2, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is probably among the minority as far as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers go entering this weekend's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He is actually looking forward to the race and readily accepts the challenge it will present.
"After hearing about all the guys saying how much they are dreading the Talladega race this weekend, it may sound pretty strange when I say that I can't wait to get there," said Busch, currently ninth in NEXTEL Cup points after finishing 11th at Kansas on Sunday and trailing leader Jimmie Johnson by 177 points with seven events remaining. "I've said all along that this race will be the "wild card" race of the 10 Chase races because it's a (restrictor-) plate race and there are so many new dimensions that enter into the equation.
"The bottom line is that it will still be a plate race and that has been one of the stellar aspects of our total program at Penske Racing. We've gotten to the point that we are one of the strongest threats to win in all of the races at Talladega and at Daytona. We're definitely going to have our breakthrough win soon and it very well could come Sunday at Talladega."
Busch certainly is correct when he points to the many new variables the drivers and teams face in this weekend's race at Talladega.
Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 will mark the first COT race on the largest track on the circuit. It will be the first-ever restrictor-plate race for the new car. There will be a designated plate size and gear rule for the event. Then, there's even more.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director John Darby said the teams are going to practice at Talladega Superspeedway with the restrictor plate, wing angle and wicker height that they ended a recent test session [Sept. 10-11] with. But he also said that two of those could change if speeds are too high.
"Basically, we're going to start out with this size of a restrictor plate, and if everything proves out OK, we'll leave it," Darby said. "But the ultimate restrictor-plate size won't be determined until the conclusion of final Cup practice. If the speeds do seem to be too high, NASCAR will react accordingly."
While that approach to this weekend's race may have many competitors a bit apprehensive, Busch prefers to take dealing with those unknown factors in stride.
"Whatever NASCAR decides for us to run, the thing to remember is that it will be the same for every driver and team out there," said Busch, who finished third in his first Talladega Cup race in April 2001 and has had a keen affection for the track ever since. "The basic style of racing will still be the same, but some of the components will be different, that's all.
"It'll be a challenge, but we'll be up for it. It really is exciting to have that many different things to work on. We don't know what gear rule we're going to have or what restrictor plate we are going to have. The front springs, where we run the sway bar, the track bar -- all up in the air -- so there is a bunch of different options.
"Where we were with the old car, it just seemed like everything was already 'scienced' out. We didn't change much when we got to the race track with the old style cars. Then there is the draft itself. It seems like I don't know if more violent is the word, or just more dramatic, that if you're in the draft you're just motoring. You're going pretty good with the guys with you. If you lose the draft, which it's easier to do, then you are sitting there like a fish out of water. It will certainly put a greater premium on the pit stops. You'll need to have fast stops to keep up with everyone else. A slow stop could mean that you're totally left behind and not able to draft with the pack when you return to the track.
"It's a bit different because we used to run a 55-degree spoiler angle at Daytona and Talladega, which meant that it laid back a little more and so you could see a bit better through the guys windshields in front of you. With the wing, there is still the obstruction just like there is with a rear-spoiler on the car, you just have to look a little bit stronger and you have to predict more moves from the other guys. It's going to be a bit different, so you have to react and make changes.
"It is a double-edged sword," Busch said of the expected increase of bump drafting in this weekend's race with the new cars. "With how comfortable the cars are to draft, the bumpers line up and you are able to bump draft and the cars are very stable. The rules will still be enforced the same way where there is the 'No Bump Zone' that NASCAR doesn't like to see you bump draft in the corners or through the trioval. Hopefully, the drivers will respect that, but at the same time, the cars are easier to drive. So it will be interesting. It's just part of the balance. It's safer to drive these cars, but anytime you get safer the drivers get more aggressive."
"With the COT cars, it's going to change the element of how Talladega races and I think it will be twice as exciting. Whoever does the best at reacting to all the changes we'll face will probably have the best shot at winning. Like we've been saying all year long, we look to be up to the challenge."
It is certainly easy to understand Busch's enthusiasm entering this weekend's return to the mammoth 2.66-mile Alabama track. After all, the 2004 series champion has recorded six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in only 13 races there. Furthermore, he has finished no worse than eighth in the last six races, posting three top-fives, six top-10s and an average finish of 5.5 during that period. Busch started 26th and finished a strong third in the April Talladega race. He led on two occasions and was impressive in blasting up from 26th on a restart with less than 10 laps remaining to post his sixth top-five and 10th top-10 finish on the track.