Sears Point: Kurt Busch preview

SONOMA, Calif. (June 17, 2008) - If history has anything to do with it, Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch should be considered as a potential strong competitor this weekend at Infineon Raceway. If preparation has anything to do with it, one...

SONOMA, Calif. (June 17, 2008) - If history has anything to do with it, Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch should be considered as a potential strong competitor this weekend at Infineon Raceway. If preparation has anything to do with it, one might even consider the 2004 NASCAR champ a bona fide candidate to win Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the winding 1.99-mile Wine Country road course. In only seven career starts at Infineon, Busch has recorded three top-five finishes. According to NASCAR's loop data statistics for the last three seasons, Busch has a series-best average running position of 7.1 and a series high 298 (90.3%) laps run in the top-15. His average green-flag speed of 90.375 mph rates second-fastest overall and his driver rating of 109.3 is third-best overall.

But Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing No. 2 Dodge team have no interest in just resting on their laurels. Armed with a brand new Miller Lite Dodge Charger, the team has undergone extensive preparation for this weekend's initial road course racing battle on the 2008 schedule.

"Going into this season, we looked at the schedule and realized just how key that the two road races will be," said Busch, who won the pole for the 2006 Infineon race and has only two starts out of the top 10. "We had a great shot at winning both road course races back in 2006. Last season with this new car, we struggled somewhat, finishing 22nd out there (Infineon) and 11th at Watkins Glen.

"With that in mind, we've built a brand new car for the road courses and we've been to Road Atlanta twice to test the car," Busch said of his team's visits on May 21 and June 4 to the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course in Braselton, Ga. "We're looking to be as prepared as we possibly can for this weekend.

"This can be a very pivotal race for us - one of the biggest races of the season," said Busch, now back up to 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings, but trailing 12th-place Clint Bowyer by 227 points. "With all the road course 'ringers' in the field and with many of the teams not being as solid on road courses as they are otherwise, it can be a super points day for us. If we can get in a good qualifying run to start up front and stay smooth and consistent all day on Sunday, we can come out of there with the kind of solid finish that we really need right now.

"There will likely be a major shake-up in the points out there on Sunday," said Busch. "When I look at the points situation, particularly like from 10th on back through 20th or so, you know that some of those guys are sweating bullets about right now. We're going in there with a super positive attitude and a feeling that we have an outstanding opportunity to make up a lot of ground in the deficit to 12th. Like I said, we just have to stay focused and be smooth and consistent all weekend long.

"The biggest key to success on Sunday?" said Busch in a quizzing tone. "It'll be crucial to stay on the track. You can get off the track and lose 15 spots in just a matter of one turn. It'll be vital to keep your track position all day. Never has it been more important for the head man sitting up on your pit box to be up on things and utilize great strategy.

"With this road course race on the schedule Sunday and then the return to Daytona for another round of (restrictor-) plate racing two races on down the road, there could be dramatic changes in the point standings by the time we hit Chicago on the second weekend of July," said Busch. "This can be a big make-or-break period of the schedule for a lot of teams. We just hope that our Miller Lite Dodge team can come out on the positive end of things at that time.

"If we're going to be a factor in making the Chase, we need to start making it happen this weekend at Sonoma," Busch concluded. "I look at it as the first of four big 'wild-card' races we run between now and when the Chase kicks in after the Richmond race in September. Daytona's in that mix of races and you have to put Watkins-Glen and the Bristol night race in that group, too. There's still time to get it done, but we really need to start making it happen this weekend out there on the road course."

--Kurt, Pat and team are debuting their new PSC-565 Miller Lite Dodge Charger this weekend at Infineon Raceway. They tested this car two days (May 21 and June 4) at Road Atlanta, the 2.54-mile road course located in Braselton, Georgia. "We chose Road Atlanta because it offered a layout that should help us in preparing for both road course races this season. It has the 'esses' and 12 turns, including one that runs downhill," Pat explained. "It's a much faster track than any of the other options that we had. Hopefully all the testing will help us be ready to really get after it when we hit Sonoma (Infineon) this weekend."

--One might say that Kurt's big-league racing career was launched at the winding road course located at the southern tip of the Sonoma Valley. In 1999, Kurt was vying for NASCAR's Southwest Tour title, and in the then-20-year-old Las Vegas native's mind a road course race equated with a weekend off. The majority of the schedule was conducted on ovals, so to the young driver, well, it just didn't seem like a regular race weekend. But in retrospect, the 1999 Southwest Tour race at Infineon Raceway was perhaps the most important of young Kurt's career. Just two months after his 3.317-second victory over Mark Reed in that race, he received a telephone call that eventually led to the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. "The year I won it was the year they changed the configuration of the track. It was the first year of the 'chute,'" Kurt recalled. "I believe a lot of the teams were watching that day, plus the race was live on ESPN. We had one full-time guy on our team back then. Of course, we had the seven guys that went over the wall, the team owner was the spotter, and we maybe had a couple of support guys. We probably had a group of 10 guys come race day and we usually had five or six at the shop that volunteered their time. It was a special day and something that I'll always remember."

--Kurt entered last year's race at Infineon Raceway in the 16th spot in the point standings. He trailed 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 144 points. He enters this weekend's race 19th in points, trailing 12th-place Clint Bowyer by 227 points.

--Sunday's race marks the one-year anniversary of Pat as the crew chief for Kurt and the No. 2 Penske Racing team. In the 36-race period under Pat's leadership, Kurt has posted two wins, five top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes and one pole. During that stretch, Kurt has an average start of 15.722 and an average finish of 15.889.

--Kurt on the aspects of the new car on road courses: "I think that the braking is much better with this car than what we had in the past and that's a big plus. With this car, there is no sense of the rear end lifting when you get into the corners. You can really dive in there and the car seems to stick really well. As big as this car is, getting into the turn is one thing and getting through and out of it is another. It can really be a handful from the apex of the turn and out. But, I really like the feel of this car on the road courses."

--Kurt's visit to his souvenir trailer at Infineon Raceway this Sunday (scheduled for 11:00 a.m. till 11:30 a.m. local time) will mark the 261st time in the last 264 races that he has been out on race days to meet the fans and sign autographs. His continuing tradition began during his first full year on the Cup circuit back in 2001. Please verify the exact time of his 30-minute signing session by visiting the trailer in advance and picking up the free tickets for the autograph line.

--No, they don't plan on giving up their day jobs any time soon...but that was some members of Kurt's Miller Lite Dodge crew that were seen on pit road last Saturday morning at Michigan pitting the No. 7 car in the ARCA race. "After qualifying and the ARCA race were rained out at the track on Friday, we had gotten back to the hotel and went to the Wilderness Sports Bar for a couple of Miller Lites," explained Dave "Mule" Nichols, tire specialist for the No. 2 Penske team. "We got to talking to a guy in there who just happened to be the general manager of the No. 7 ARCA team. He was a real nice guy and explained that his team was without adequate help for the rained-out race that was rescheduled for Saturday morning. The guys started batting around the idea of us helping them out. We had to be at the track anyhow, so why not just get up and come on in a few hours earlier? I said, 'hey, I'll jack the car.' Then 'Stretch' (Eric Bailey, mechanic on the No. 2 team) said that he'd change tires. Before we knew it, we had four guys from our team (engine-tuner Darin Russell and team engineer Brian Wilson also part of the group) who signed on to help pit the car there on Saturday. We had a great time and actually did a really respectable job on the pit stops. As it turned out, our car (driven by A. J. Henriksen) finished 10th in the race. No, we don't have any thoughts about doing it again," said "Mule," "but it's pretty neat to be able to boast that you had a top-10 finish out there when you did go ARCA racing."

--It is now official...Kansas Speedway has been added as a location for one of the "Ride with Kurt for the Kids" events this season. The date for the big event is October 12. "We've added a little twist to it this season in that I'm inviting a special guest driver to come and help me out," said Kurt. "For Kansas, I'm pleased to announce that Mark Martin will be joining me for the event. I've always respected Mark as much as any driver I have ever known and I am thrilled that he agreed to be there. I know that the fans will get an extra kick out of Mark being there and it will certainly add to the excitement for the day." The high-speed, white-knuckle rides with Kurt and Mark behind the wheel will be in a special NASCAR Sprint Cup-style stock car provided by event sponsor - the Richard Petty Driving Experience. For complete event information and to purchase one of these exciting experiences, please visit www.kurtbusch.com, send an email to ridewithkurt@kurtbusch.com, or call 704-799-2428. All proceeds will go to the Kurt Busch Foundation. Stay tuned for announcements concerning other "Ride with Kurt for the Kids" dates for 2008.

-credit: pr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Kurt Busch , Richard Petty , Mark Reed , Clint Bowyer , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske