Dover: Kurt Busch preview

Busch Hoping to Conquer Monster Mile This Weekend DOVER, Del. -The NASCAR record books show that Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch made his first Sprint Cup Series start at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 24, 2000. It also shows that ...

Busch Hoping to Conquer Monster Mile This Weekend

DOVER, Del. -The NASCAR record books show that Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch made his first Sprint Cup Series start at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 24, 2000. It also shows that almost 10 years and 19 Dover races later, the Las Vegas native is still looking for his initial Cup victory on The Monster Mile. The record book doesn't show how much Busch wants to roll into Victory Lane in this weekend's Autism Speaks 400 presented by HERSHEY®'S Milk & Milkshakes and it certainly couldn't begin to describe how special the win would be.

"Dover will always be such an extraordinary track for me that holds such significance as far as my career goes," said Busch, who won the 2004 Cup points title under the first year of the "Chase" format. "If you would have told me years ago that we'd be coming back into Dover after all these races without a win, I would have said, 'Man, you've gotta be kidding me.' But the statistics don't lie; we really are zero for 19 heading back into Dover.

"I can tell you one thing and it's that the reason we're looking for our first Dover Cup win certainly isn't because we haven't put forth great efforts there through the years," said Busch. "Notice I said that we're still looking for our first Cup win in that I will always be so proud of winning the (then NASCAR Craftsman) truck race at Dover the same weekend when I made my Cup debut. We have had some strong Cup runs there; it just seems like we haven't been able to put together a whole race. We've led laps and been in contention for the win several times, but just haven't been able to pull it off."

"We've struggled at times and certainly had our ups and downs through the years of racing at Dover, but I can surely say that most of my memories have been so favorable of the place," Busch said. "You only have one very first race and that weekend back in 2000 at Dover when I started my Cup career will always be so special to me. I guess if they ever did a Kurt Busch biography, it might require a full chapter just to explain what all happened that weekend.

"When I think back to that weekend at Dover, I really have to ask myself, 'Has it really been that long?'" said Busch as he started to recollect the September 2000 weekend at "The Monster Mile." "Sometimes it seems like only yesterday, but other times it feels like maybe it's been longer. It has certainly been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs and full of memories - some I'll always treasure and some that I'd just as soon forget."

"That was a pretty cool weekend for a 22-year-old kid there at Dover in 2000," Busch recalled. "I was running for the Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year and was third in the overall points when I got the call to drive the 97 car.

"My career was moving so fast back then," Busch continued. "Only 11 months before that, I was just a successful young short-tracker living in Las Vegas and still holding down a job with the water department. We'd won the championship in the NASCAR Southwest Series in '99 and I was the youngest driver to ever win the title. We got the call to drive the No. 99 truck and I had run only 20 races or so (21) when I was put in the 97 Cup ride.

"I can remember reading a headline back then that said, 'Busch's Career Skyrocketing Into the Stratosphere,'" said Busch. "That pretty much said it all. I'd gone from being a big fish in a little pond on the short tracks to a Truck Series race winner and leading rookie in only a matter of a few months. Then I was straight into the Cup ride, without ever even running a single Busch Series race.

"That was a special weekend at Dover, for sure," Busch said. "We won the pole for the Truck Series race, but wrecked during the final practice. We had to pull the backup out and start from the rear of the field without turning a single lap of practice in it. I remember just taking it easy for the first few laps to make sure everything was cool. Then we just set sail. We'd raced up into the top five after only 50 laps. We kept up the pace and at the end it came down to a big battle between Mike Wallace and me. He was leading with only a couple of laps to go and we were right on his bumper. I made the move to pass him on the outside and he tried to block me and wound up spinning himself out. So we wound up coming from last to first and won that race in our backup truck.

"We'd already had the Cup car there testing it a week earlier and had turned in some really fast laps," recalled Busch. "That Friday, before we won the Truck Series race, we qualified the Cup car in the 10th spot. A lot of folks won't remember and it's a great trivia question these days as FOX-TV's Jeff Hammond was my crew chief for Roush Racing there that weekend.

"I remember really looking forward to the Saturday morning practice, but it never happened because a storm came through the area. We got an extra hour of practice that afternoon after the Grand National race was over and got her dialed in the best we could. At least we thought we did. It had been overcast all during Saturday's practice and was still that way when Sunday's race started. The car started out really loose, and we adjusted to tighten it up. Then the sun broke through the clouds and we had a super tight racecar. We ran the last 125 laps under the green and I really had my hands full. We held on, kept her out of the wall and finished 18th. We accomplished all our goals there that weekend."

In the 18 races since that initial Dover battle, Busch has put together a record that boasts four top-five finishes and six top-10s. Half of his top-five finishes came during the 2009 season as Busch finished fifth in both Dover races last year.

"We were closer than we've ever been to winning at Dover last year, that's for sure," said Busch. "After starting up front and finishing toward the back at Dover in 2008, it was just the opposite last year. We started back in the pack and finished up in toward the front. We made steady progress during both races at Dover last season.

"The biggest thing I remember about the spring race there was getting behind because of a flat tire that sent us to pit road under the green. It felt like we ran half the race running right in front of Jimmie Johnson on the tail end of the lead lap before we got the caution flag we needed. Pat Tryson was our crew chief then and we did some major changes toward the end of the race to try to make the car better. We were back on the lead lap, but at the rear of the field and had to rally back up through there to finish fifth.

"In the fall Dover race, we were pretty stout all race long," said Busch. "We were able to compete with Jimmie (Johnson) and the 48 (Hendrick Motorsports) team for about half of the race, before the track got rubbered up and we lost our edge. We still led like 100 laps during the race and felt like maybe we had gained some ground as for our total package there.

Busch comes back into Dover for this weekend's battle on "The Monster Mile" with extra confidence and added spring in his step. Much of that is due to the addition of Steve Addington as his crew chief this year.

"Steve has been able to give our team such a big boost everywhere we've been this season and I'm sure it'll be the same this weekend at Dover," said Busch. "There has always been that connection people want to make with the high-banked concrete tracks at Bristol and Dover. Everyone seems to remember how well that Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon did at both tracks.

"We've been fortunate enough to win five races at Bristol, but we haven't won our first at Dover. Jimmie Johnson has won a ton of races (five wins, including both 2009 events) at Dover, but didn't win his first at Bristol until their spring race. We dominated that race and should have won it. I think that with Steve Addington up there on the pit box leading our team on race day this time around at Dover, the cards are ready to turn and you could see the "Blue Deuce" sitting there in Victory Lane at 'The Monster Mile" on Sunday."

-source: penske

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports