Chicagoland: Kurt Busch preview

KURT BUSCH ON HOT STREAK ENTERING USG SHEETROCK 400 -Miller Lite Dodge Driver Closing In On Top-10 NEXTEL Cup Points Position & Chase Eligibility- JOLIET, Ill. (July 4, 2006) -- Kurt Busch and his Roy McCauley-led Miller Lite Dodge Team...

KURT BUSCH ON HOT STREAK ENTERING USG SHEETROCK 400 -Miller Lite Dodge Driver Closing In On Top-10 NEXTEL Cup Points Position & Chase Eligibility-

JOLIET, Ill. (July 4, 2006) -- Kurt Busch and his Roy McCauley-led Miller Lite Dodge Team continued their charge up the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points ladder with their third-place finish in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. They hope to continue their hot streak in Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

"Our team has really been clicking during the last month and we're looking at Chicagoland as a big test to see how we stack up," said Busch, now up to 13th in the point standings and 103 points out of 10th with nine races remaining to determine the competitors "Chase for the Championship" for 2006. "We've been strong on the short tracks and super competitive on the big speedways.

"We struggled a bit on the intermediate tracks at the beginning of the year, but our program on those tracks has really come around in the last few races," said Busch. "All the testing we've done this year at Kentucky Speedway has been helpful in getting our intermediate program back on track. Every time we've been there, we've been able to go on to the next track better prepared.

"We've tested at Kentucky three times this year and the last visit was just before the Pocono race last month," Busch said. "We went on to Pocono and qualified second and finished second. Then, the following week, we had another strong run and finished in the top 10 again at Michigan.

"This weekend's race at Chicagoland will be the next step to see just how far our intermediate program has advanced," said Busch. "Our team has progressed so much over the last month or so. The communication and camaraderie within our team are great. We're definitely headed in the right direction. We're really looking forward to this weekend's race at Chicagoland."

Busch certainly has reason to claim that his team is headed in the right direction. Putting together a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes (second at Pocono, ninth at Michigan, fifth at Infineon and third at Daytona), Busch has climbed from 18th in the point standings up to 13th. He has cut his deficit to 10th by a whopping 162 points in just those four races.

Even though he is enjoying his recent roll of success, Busch maintains a realistic stance on the points situation after 17 of the 26 races to determine this year's "playoff" scenario has been completed.

"It's nice steady progress -- that's what we're looking for, and I think that's what we've found in the last few weeks -- just turning that corner," Busch offered. "A lot of things weren't going our way in mid-season. I say mid-season, but the way you look at the Chase and the races you have leading up to that 26th race. We definitely feel like we've got things in our direction, but yet we still need some luck. There's still plenty of time for things to go right and plenty of time for things to go wrong. We just hope that those things that go wrong are to some of the other guys."

Busch will again be pulling "double-duty" this weekend at Chicagoland as he is also entered in Saturday's Durock 300. He will pilot the same No. 39 Penske Truck Rental Dodge (PBC-008) that he raced to a second-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 27th and to a third-place finish at Dover International Speedway on June 3rd.

"That's a ton of fun out there when we run the Penske Truck Rental Grand National car and I'm really looking forward to getting back into it this weekend at Chicago," said Busch. "That program has truly been an asset to all of our teams at Penske. The fact that we have the same crew chief (Matt Gimbel) and crew over there with Ryan (Newman, his Penske teammate) and me sharing the driving duties has been very helpful. I think it's offered a great way to compare our preferences and driving styles. I used Ryan's setup to win our first race out in Texas back in April. It's really reinforced the information sharing and communications among all our teams."

"We're hoping to continue to show the strength we've displayed in all four races with Kurt at the wheel this year," said Gimbel. "We have a win, a second, a third and a fourth. Kurt was joking around about needing a fifth at Chicago to make it a clean sweep of top-fives, but we're coming in there determined to pick up another win. Working with Kurt has been such a thrill this year. We communicate really well and he's shown that he can drive the wheels off of everything we put under him out there."

Busch's career Cup track record at Chicagoland boasts three top-10 finishes in five races. His best finish to date is the sixth he scored in the 2002 race. In that race, Busch qualified second, but was forced to start from the rear of the field after two engine failures during the final day of practice leading up to the race. He started 19th and finished eighth in the 2005 USG Sheetrock 400.

"I've always enjoyed racing at Chicagoland and we've had some decent runs there," said Busch. "With my family originally being from the Chicago area before relocating to Las Vegas, it feels like a second home to me. Everyone who knows me is well aware of my love for the Chicago professional sports teams. Winning at Chicago would be a very memorable accomplishment in my career. The way I'm looking at it is that I have two great chances to make special memories this weekend."

This weekend's schedule at Chicagoland Speedway calls for Cup practice on Friday from 12:05 p.m. till 1:35 p.m., followed by Grand National practice from 1:45 p.m. till 2:45 p.m. Cup qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. and is followed by the final practice for Saturday's race. Saturday's schedule calls for Cup practice sessions from 9:00 a.m. till 10:00 a.m. and from 10:35 a.m. till 11:20 a.m. Qualifying for the Durock 300 is set for 11:40 a.m., with that 300-mile, 200-lap battle getting the green flag at 3:05 p.m. Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 (400 miles, 267 laps) has a 2:35 p.m. CDT starting time. NBC-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of both races.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch