Kurt Busch and Miller Lite Team Ready for Auto Club 500 FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 17, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says his "real season" in 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup competition begins with this weekend's Auto Club 500 on the two-mile...
Kurt Busch and Miller Lite Team Ready for Auto Club 500
FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 17, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says his "real season" in 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup competition begins with this weekend's Auto Club 500 on the two-mile Auto Club Speedway.
"Daytona's behind us and we came out of there with a top-10 finish," said Busch, who bounced back from Sunday's "big one" crash in the 500 to post an unlikely 10th-place finish. "For our Miller Lite Dodge Team, the real season begins this weekend out in California.
"When you look back at our record since we've been racing this (COT) kind of car, our biggest hurdle to overcome has been our competitiveness on the intermediate tracks, the mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks," said Busch, who heads into California as the track's leading Coors Light Pole Award winner with three career poles. "Our big-track program is pretty respectable and we're finally getting a better handle on the short tracks and the one-mile flat tracks.
"For our team and the overall intermediate track program at Penske Racing, the race this weekend is super important," said Busch, who has one win, three top-five finishes and five top-10s in 13 career races on the 2.0-mile Fontana, Calif., track. "It starts a three-race segment of the schedule that will provide a lot of answers.
"California is the first of three straight intermediate races, with (Las) Vegas and Atlanta to follow. Unlike previous years, we had no pre-season testing to prepare us for this season. We did get in a test at Nashville just prior to NASCAR implementing the no-testing rule. The Goodyear test we did at Texas was a big bonus as far as the big picture goes. It was under the normal tire-testing controlled environment, but we made the best of what track time we did get out there.
"When the California, Las Vegas and Atlanta races are in the record book, we can get a good gauge on where we stand for the bulk of the season," said Busch. "Many of our off-season questions and fresh ideas that we are applying will have answers and results to look at. We can take a look at where we are then and decide what we need to do - what direction we need to go in - after these next three races."
In the 18 races held last season on the true intermediate tracks (Fontana, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas, Darlington, Lowe's, Pocono, Michigan, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas and Homestead), Busch had an average finish of 24.8, but the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion definitely has hopes his team can turn things around this season.
"We struggled in those races for most of the season last year, but we started trying some setups during the final 10 races that produced some pretty competitive runs," Busch offered. "We finished a strong third in the fall race at Charlotte (Lowe's) and had a solid sixth-place finish at Atlanta.
"We have quite a few ideas we're hoping will work going into this weekend, with some fresh input coming from the engineering side," added Busch, who started 36th and finished 13th in last February's race on the track opened by car owner Roger Penske in 1997. "Just as it's been over the last few years out there, the tire maintenance situation will be critical.
"The track has worn to the point that you can get a fresh set of tires and be Superman for the first few laps. The fall-off rate will see you lose up to four-tenths (of a second in lap times) after one lap on fresh tires. It can get pretty hairy out there under any long green-flag runs. There are guys rocketing around the track with fresh tires on trying to negotiate the traffic and others who haven't pitted yet trying to stay out of the way, but keep their momentum going.
"It's such a fast track and you carry such speed into the corners that you really have to stay on your toes," said Busch, who has a 12.6 average start and 13.5 average finish in his 13 career races on the track, but most impressively has been running at the finish of all the races and has a 99.9 percent (3,501 of 3,505) lap completion record there. "The spotter is extremely important in the races at Fontana because he has a better view of the other cars' closing rate. He knows the cars that are approaching on fresher rubber and can give you the heads up well in advance so you can plan your moves accordingly.
"We're really looking forward to getting out to California for this weekend's race and for the two-race tour back out West," said Busch, who grew up in Las Vegas, just a three-hour drive up I-15 from Auto Club Speedway. "We're staying out there and not coming back to North Carolina until after the Vegas race. We know it'll be a fun time back out in the desert and we hope it'll be a successful two weekends at the race tracks."