CONCORD, N.C. (May 22, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch prefers not to dwell on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings entering Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the 12th points-paying race of the 2007 season. But he is...
CONCORD, N.C. (May 22, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch prefers not to dwell on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings entering Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the 12th points-paying race of the 2007 season. But he is certainly aware of the overall importance of the series longest -- and perhaps most demanding -- of the 36-race schedule.
"While I'm not sitting here with a hand-held calculator studying the points up and down, I am conscious that this is a huge race as we're nearing the half-way point before the Chase kicks in," said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, who is currently seventh in the standings with 1,325 points, trailing sixth-place Tony Stewart by 50 points and enjoying a 162-point cushion on 13th-place Ryan Newman. "I'm smart enough to know that this weekend's Coke 600 is a major big-picture hurdle for us, but we're confident we'll be prepared as possible for the challenge we're facing there this weekend."
Busch, who has finished in the top 10 only twice in his 13 career races on the 1.5-mile track, admits that LMS hasn't been one of his favorite tracks through the years.
"By that, I certainly don't mean that I dislike the track," Busch continued. "I love racing there and it's like another home track for us. But the fact is that we've had an awful amount of tough luck there, with pieces breaking, crashes that weren't our fault and a lot of weird occurrences."
Busch's two top-10 finishes at LMS were also top-fives: A fourth-place finish in the October 2004 race and a track career best second-place finish in the October 2005 battle. His best career finish in the 600 was the 11th he recorded during his roll to the 2004 points title.
"That finish in the fall of 2005 was a great race for us and pretty different than I'd been accustomed to," Busch said of the race that featured 15 cautions for 81 laps, mostly due to tire issues. "I was just rolling through most of the night worried about which tire was going to blow out - the right-front or right-rear. We were able to run the entire race without anything out of the ordinary happening. We were able to survive and be there at the end.
"With the rock-hard tires we're running now, hopefully, we won't have any issues with the Goodyears."
Busch finished 39th and 32nd in last year's LMS races.
"After testing there a couple of weeks ago, we're very confident that will be the case," Busch said. "But as always, it'll still be about survival again in the 600 on Sunday. With the hard tires and the smaller fuel cells, it'll be extremely challenging for the pit crews. With all the stops we'll be making, their role in winning the race will be incredibly important.
"One of the best things we have going for us is the strategy we implemented several weeks back when we were planning for races during May and June. I guess you could say that we definitely took a realistic approach to the races at Charlotte (LMS) and we think it'll pay off, at least we hope so.
"During the test we had there, our plan was to narrow it down to a situation of choosing one car for last Saturday night's all-star race and saving our best car for this weekend's 600 and that's exactly what we did. We ran the (PRS-0) 73 car last weekend and we've saved our Texas car [PSC-078 chassis that Busch was so strong with at Texas Motor Speedway last month] for the 600. It was definitely a smart move to save our strongest stuff for the big points-paying race there this weekend."
Busch will again pull double-duty this weekend as he and his Matt Gimbel-led Penske Truck Rental team will introduce a new car in Saturday's CARQUEST Auto Parts 300.
"It's our brand-new PBC-015 chassis and we've been burning the midnight oil in getting it ready for this weekend," explained Gimbel, the 34-year-old Northampton, Pa., native and Temple University engineering graduate who is overseeing the Busch Series programs for all three Penske drivers [Busch, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr.] this season. "We had a great test at Lowe's last week, but unfortunately, we crashed another car in the process.
"I love racing with Kurt and I really think he took it pretty hard when he got loose and the car got away from him."
Gimbel, who has led Busch to an incredible record of two wins, six top-five finishes and eight top-10s in his nine career NBS starts, said the "great thing" about the car Busch crashed was the team never intended on racing it.
"It was probably just going to be our backup all along," Gimbel continued. "The big plan was to roll out the new '15 car' there this weekend and we're putting as much advance work into it as possible. We were really strong last May in this race and finished second. We're coming back to win there on Saturday night and if I was a betting man, I'd certainly have my money on Kurt Busch."
Busch's CARQUEST Auto Parts 300/Coca-Cola 600 schedule begins Thursday with NBS practice set for 1-2 p.m. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup practice is on tap from 3-4:30 p.m. The final NBS practice is set from 6-7 p.m. The 7:10 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying will allocate all 43 starting spots for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. There is no scheduled action for NBS or Cup cars on Friday.
Saturday's action-packed schedule includes Cup practice from 3-3:50 p.m. and NBS qualifying at 4:05 p.m. The Cup cars get their final practice between 6:20 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on Saturday, just prior to the 8 p.m. start of the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 (200 laps/300 miles) NBS race. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN2 and PRN Radio beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (400 laps/600 miles) has a 5:40 p.m. EDT start and features live coverage by FOX and PRN Radio beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.