LONG POND, Pa. (June 6, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch won the July 2005 race at Pocono Raceway and finished a strong runner-up in both events last season. Typical of the 2004 NEXTEL Cup champion who is determined to give car owner...
LONG POND, Pa. (June 6, 2007) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch won the July 2005 race at Pocono Raceway and finished a strong runner-up in both events last season. Typical of the 2004 NEXTEL Cup champion who is determined to give car owner Roger Penske his first-ever NASCAR championship, he isn't ready to rest on those accolades.
"I wish it was a second in 2005 and two wins for Roger and our Miller Lite Dodge there last season," says Busch, who enters this weekend's return visit to the track for Sunday's Pocono 500 11th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. "Out of all 43 cars there last year, we were second-best to that 11 car [Denny Hamlin] in both races. We're coming back to Pocono this year looking to have the car that everyone else is chasing."
One thing is for sure -- if everyone is indeed chasing Busch's car, it will be a different Dodge Charger than he drove at Pocono last year. Crew chief Troy Raker says that what might have been looked at as a negative this time last year is now viewed as a positive.
"Kurt raced the same car in both races at Pocono last year -- the [PSC-0] 93 car," Raker said. "It was a good car and performed well for us for several races last season. We had the good finishes at Pocono with the car and took it on to Kansas last fall. It seemed like everything the crew threw at it didn't help. Kurt and the whole crew were frustrated at the end of that one.
"The team decided to bring that car out for the season-ending Homestead race last year. I wasn't here with the team at the time, but what I understand was that they were willing to give the car one last chance. The car was pretty wicked all weekend long down there and there definitely were no tears shed when Kurt wound up wiping the car out during the race.
"The car we're bringing to Pocono this weekend is the [PSC-0] 88 car. We have a lot of faith in this car and Kurt has already proven its worth. The team ran it once in '06, when Kurt won the pole with it at California. We raced it again back in February at California. Kurt proved that we were turning the corner on the intermediate tracks with a top-10 finish [seventh].
"The big thing is that we're confident it'll be a perfect fit for him to race the big and flat track that Pocono presents. If we can continue to give him the Penske horsepower that he's been bragging about recently, we could have a very strong combination at Pocono this weekend."
Busch started on the outside of the front row beside pole-winner Denny Hamlin and finished a strong runner-up to the 2006 top rookie in last year's Pocono 500, leading laps and looking to have winning potential.
"That was one of the strongest total team effort performances our first-year team had all season long last year," Busch recalled. "The 11 car [Hamlin] had the advantage through the turns, but we had the great Penske power down the straightaways that kept us in the running. 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. Their last stop 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. They looked every bit as good as what the 17 team [Matt Kenseth's pit crew] does on a pretty regular basis. They showed their true potential to be among the best on pit road that day."
In last year's Pocono 500, 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 Kenseth fifth.
Busch started seventh and finished runner-up again to Hamlin in last July's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway.
"That was another great total team effort for our Miller Lite Dodge team," Busch recalled. "The guys were great in the pits all day long. All of their stops were in the 12- or 13-second bracket and that helped keep us up front.
"The pit strategy paid off for us in that we were able to follow the lead of the 11 car and go from there. It bit us early on in the race when we took four tires like they did and got mired on back in the pack when most of the teams went with two. But we had a really strong hot rod and we kept on tuning on it. With the changes we made and the great pit stops, we were back up there battling the 11 [Hamlin] again for the win."