Pocono II: Kurt Busch preview

KURT BUSCH LOOKS FOR ONE BETTER IN PENNSYLVANIA 500 -Miller Lite Dodge Driver Is Race's Defending Champion; Runner-Up In June's Pocono 500- LONG POND, Pa. (July 18, 2006) For Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch, Sunday's return to Pocono ...


-Miller Lite Dodge Driver Is Race's Defending Champion; Runner-Up In June's Pocono 500-

LONG POND, Pa. (July 18, 2006) For Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch, Sunday's return to Pocono Raceway couldn't come at a better time. With seven races remaining in determining the drivers who will compete for this year's "Chase for the Championship," Busch finds himself 206 points out of eligibility.

It is easily understood why Busch might be eager for this weekend's Pennsylvania 500 on the triangular-shaped 2.5-mile track. He is the defending champion of this race and claimed a runner-up finish in the most recent visit by the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup tour last month.

"We qualified second and finished second there in June, so I don't have to tell you that we're hoping to get back on course and headed in the right direction this weekend at Pocono," said Busch, who dropped to 14th in the point standings (and fell to 206 points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle) after finishing 38th at Loudon, N.H., on Sunday, the victim of a late-race crash. "With seven races remaining, there's still a lot of time for good things to happen for some and bad things to happen to others.

"When you look at the races remaining and the competitive environment at some of those places, you have to think that it's far from being over in determining who's in and who's out of it," said Busch, who led 131 of the 203 laps in last July's Pocono race en route to his 13th career Cup win. "With tracks like Watkins Glen and Bristol in the mix, almost anything could happen.

"Really, right now it looks like only the 48 (points leader Jimmie Johnson) and the 17 (Matt Kenseth, second in the standings) are pretty much locked in. When you consider there's less that 150 points (147 points) separating third (Jeff Burton) from 11th (Tony Stewart), there can be guys way up in the standings now who have problems and fall out of the top 10. We're 206 out of 10th right now, but there's still time to get up there during the next seven races.

"I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again - just go back and look at what Matt Kenseth did last year," said Busch. "I agree that it's a lot tougher out there this year, with guys like Tony Stewart even out of it right now, but Matt was able to mount a charge and make the cut against the odds. I wouldn't write off any of the top 15 guys right now.

"I remember winning the Pocono race last July and the 17 team having a disastrous day," said Busch. "They were further out of the top 10 with only six races left than we are now going into Pocono and with seven races left."

The 2005 record book shows that Kenseth was 16th in the standings after finishing 10th at New Hampshire, trailing 10th-place Dale Jarrett by 150 points. After finishing 36th at Pocono last July, he fell to 17th in points and saw his deficit to 10th grow to 213 points.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not over till it's over," said Busch. "We're still going about it the way we have over the last six weeks or so. We'll take it one race at a time and focus on getting all we can out of each and every race. That's all we can do."

Busch's career track record at Pocono boasts the win and five top-five finishes in 11 career Cup races. Three of those top-fives were runner-up finishes; including the one he scored in the June 11 Pocono 500.

Busch started last July's race from the outside-front-row starting spot after turning in a lap of 53.402 seconds (168.533mph). He took the lead from pole-winner Jamie McMurray on the first lap and led by as much as five seconds during much of the first half of the race. He spent all but 13 laps running in the top five and took the lead from Rusty Wallace for the final time on Lap 183 to cruise to the win in a race that ended under the yellow.

Busch again started second in June's Pocono 500, clocking in with a qualifying lap of 53.102 seconds (169.485 mph). Rookie Denny Hamlin took the pole with his lap of 53.054 seconds (169.638 mph).

Hamlin showed strength early, leading all but one of the first 50 laps before tire problems sent him into a spin and to pit road for sheet metal repairs. Busch inherited the lead on Lap 51 and went on to lead on seven occasions during the race for a total of 31 laps. Hamlin fought back to regain the lead on Lap 103 and withstood several challenges from the likes of Busch, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton to claim his initial NEXTEL Cup victory. The race featured a five-lap dash to the finish after a horrifying crash by Jeff Gordon brought out the red flag late in the race. Luckily, Gordon walked away from the accident uninjured.

At the finish, it was Hamlin taking the win, with Busch second, Tony Stewart third, Brian Vickers fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth. Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Burton and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10 finishers.

"The 11 car had the advantage through the turns, but we had the great Penske power down the straightaways that kept us in the running," Busch recalled of the June race. "There was no better over-the-wall performance out there that day than what my guys put together. They were second to none. They had me in and out at the front all day long. The last stop - it was something like a 12.3 (-second stop)- that was pretty spectacular. That helped us get back up to second when the green flag stops cycled back around.

"It was just a great total team effort at Pocono in the June race and we're hoping to go back there and maybe do one better this time around," Busch concluded.

This weekend's schedule at Pocono calls for practice on Friday at 12:05 p.m. A single round of qualifying at 3:40 p.m. will determine Sunday's 43-car stating field. Saturday's action includes practice sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 11:05 a.m. Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 (500 miles/200 laps) has a 2:05 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by TNT-TV and MRN Radio.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Denny Hamlin