LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Feb. 27, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is off to his best start yet as a driver for Penske Racing, but he insists he is bridling his enthusiasm during the early part of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. "We've...
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Feb. 27, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is off to his best start yet as a driver for Penske Racing, but he insists he is bridling his enthusiasm during the early part of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
"We've been up against the wall during the first two races this season, but we've managed to achieve what we set out to do," said Busch, who stands fourth in the Sprint Cup point standings entering this weekend's UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the third of 36 points-paying races in 2008. "We've said since the beginning of the year that our big goal for the first portion of the schedule was to be solidly in the top 10 in the points at the conclusion of the fifth race, when everything aligns with the 2008 standings.
"You could say that we're cautiously optimistic right now about what the season holds for our Miller Lite Dodge Team,' said Busch, who finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500 and scored a 13th-place finish in Monday's weather-delayed Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif. "We're really entrenched in learning all we can about this new-style car. We're trying to get a good handle on everything. We were very fast at times during the California race, but we stalled out with our forward progress late in the race.
"We're testing the adjustability of the car and trying to get better at learning that end of the equation,' said Busch, who now has a 39.5 average start and a 7.5 average finish heading into Las Vegas. "We've struggled with making what would have been really minor adjustments in the past only to see the car react the opposite way of what we were hoping.
"With intermediate track races at Vegas and Atlanta coming up, followed by the return to the short tracks, we know we have our work cut out for us," said Busch, who has an average finish of 17.6 in seven career races on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track. "We'll just keep clicking along, focusing on one race at a time. Hopefully, by mid-season we'll have a pretty good handle on it."
Busch is now in the early part of his third season as a Penske Racing driver. In his first season with his team back in 2006, he was 25th in the point standings after two races, trailing leader Jimmie Johnson by a whopping 181 points. Last year after two races, Busch was 19th in the standings, trailing leader Mark Martin by 139 points.
"I'm just curious to see what we can do if we can ever get qualifying in and maybe have a chance to start up front for a change," said crew chief Pat Tryson, who'll be heading Busch's team for his 24th race with the No. 2 car this weekend at Las Vegas. "When you consider that we started dead last at Daytona and only 36th at California, it'll be a nice change to see how strong we can be without starting the race in a hole.
"We came back from the speeding penalty at Daytona and we came back from our fuel mileage blunder at California that put us down a lap at one time," said Tryson. "So there's no doubt that we've been plenty strong enough to pass a lot of cars. Hopefully at Vegas this weekend, we can get in a good qualifying run, start up close to the front and not have to be in the catch-up mode we've been in during the first two races this season."
Busch's career record at LVMS sports one top-five finish and two top-10s in seven races. His best start to date was second in 2004 and his best finish was third in the 2005 season. Busch started 10th and finished 26th in last year's race.
"We had a pretty good car at the beginning of last year's Vegas race, probably capable of a top-10 finish," said Busch, a Las Vegas native and graduate of Durango High School. "But when our luck changed, it became our goal just to survive. During the first long stretch of green, the car really started pushing and we dropped back through the field drastically. We didn't get a caution that we needed to try to get the car handling better and had to pit under the green. When we pitted, NASCAR said we were speeding entering pit road and slapped us with a drive-through penalty.
"Before we knew it, we'd gone from like 12th all the way back to 28th or so and were running a lap down," Busch continued. "At the same time we had our handling problems, something went wrong with the engine. The temperatures shot way up and we lost the power we needed. To make matters worse, the thing started smoking and there was a fog in the cockpit for about the last 100 laps of the race. It became a situation of just trying to finish the race and pick up all the points we could.
"Needless to say, with it being another homecoming race this weekend in Vegas, we're definitely hoping for better luck this time around," Busch said.