TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 24, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch may still be looking for his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway, but he still should be considered one of the strong candidates for a victory ...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 24, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch may still be looking for his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway, but he still should be considered one of the strong candidates for a victory in Sundays Aaron's 499 on the mammoth 2.66-mile Alabama speed plant.
After all, the 2004 series champ has recorded five top-10 finishes and nine top-10s in only 12 races there. Furthermore, he has finished no worse than eighth in the last five races, posting two top-fives, five top-10s and an average finish of 6.0 during that period.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors contributing to Busch's success on NASCAR's biggest race track is his true love for the white-knuckled, three- and four-wide by 10-deep, nerve-racking "days at the office" always associated with the restrictor-plate racing at Talladega.
"The truth is that I really enjoy plate racing," said Busch, who has climbed to 13th in NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup point standings, trailing 12th-place Jamie McMurray by 31 points with eight races in the 2007 record book. "It's a different kind of challenge than what we do during the other 32 races of the season. There's a big mental demand and it'll wear you out, but the biggest thing about that type of racing is it truly is a total team effort.
"I've heard plate racing referred to as a high-speed chess match on wheels and that's a pretty good description, I think," said Busch, who finished third in his first-ever visit to Talladega in 2001. "But at the same time, I have enough experience at the track and respect for the other competitors that I realize it can also turn into a scene that could be depicted as 190-mile-per-hour Russian roulette."
Busch certainly has plenty of incentive to win on Sunday at Talladega.
"The bottom line is that I've never won a plate race, Roger's [Penske, team owner] teams have never won a plate race and Miller Lite has never been to Victory Lane in a plate race," said Busch, who has two second-place finishes in his plate racing career entering Sunday's Aaron's 499. "We're coming into Talladega looking for a break-through weekend for all involved and we're confident we'll have a car that can get the job done. We're just super excited."
Busch led his first-ever lap in Cup competition during his first race at Talladega in 2001.
"The key to being successful at Talladega and in restrictor-plate racing in general requires the best from everyone on the team," contends Busch, who has a 20.4 average start and a 10.8 average finish at Talladega. "In my eyes, it's about 90 percent car and 10 percent pit strategy. You need to have the equipment capable of running up front and you must make the right calls in the pits to help keep you up there. That's how you avoid getting caught up in the big multi-car crashes and that's how you bring her home in one piece and with a great finish at the end of the day.
"We've been fortunate to have all of that working for us through the years and I have really enjoyed driving our Penske Racing-prepared cars in the plate races. We're bringing the same car back this weekend to Talladega that we raced there in both races last year. We showed strength last season and we look to have winning potential this time around. They've re-bodied the car again, taken it through the wind tunnel and done all their homework going into this race. The guys in the engine shop are always looking for additional horsepower and I can't wait to see what they've come up with for this weekend."
The recent strong performances in restrictor-plate racing by the No. 2 Miller Lite-backed Penske Racing Dodge team marks an abrupt change to what was the case in the past. Busch was named at the end of the 2005 season as the replacement driver for racing legend Rusty Wallace, who now enjoys a successful second career in the broadcasting field. Wallace, injured in a spectacular end-over-end crash on the last lap of the spring Talladega race in 1993, struggled on the track for years, posting only one top-five finish in 45 races. He was well-known for having an aversion to restrictor-plate racing.
In five restrictor-plate races piloting the Miller Lite Penske Dodge, Busch has recorded two top-five finishes and three top-10s. He has been a serious threat to win in both editions of the Daytona 500 in which he has competed for Penske Racing. In last year's race, Busch led and was running eighth when he was crashed out of the race by Jamie McMurray with only 13 laps remaining. In February's race, he led the most laps and was battling Tony Stewart for the lead with less than 50 laps remaining when an incident in turn 4 took both drivers out of contention.
Busch and his crew will race chassis PSC-066 this weekend at Talladega. The team used the car in both Talladega races last season, starting fifth and finishing seventh in the May event and finishing third from a 29th-place start in the October race. They raced it in the Feb. 10 Bud Shootout, where Busch finished a strong third. Wallace first used the car in the qualifying races prior to the 2004 Daytona 500 and raced it in four restrictor-plate races during the 2004-2005 seasons.
This weekend's schedule at Talladega calls for practice on Friday from 1:30-2:30 p.m. and from 3:05-3:55 p.m. The single round of qualifying on Saturday at 10:15 a.m. will allocate all 43 starting positions for Sunday's race and all cars will be impounded after qualifying. Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway has a 2:10 p.m. EDT starting time. FOX and MRN Radio will broadcast the event beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT.