KURT BUSCH MAKING 200TH CAREER CUP START ON SUNDAY AT INFINEON -Miller Lite Dodge Credits His 1999 Southwest Tour Win At Track For Helping Launch His Career- SONOMA, Calif. (June 20, 2006) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch will be making...
KURT BUSCH MAKING 200TH CAREER CUP START ON SUNDAY AT INFINEON
-Miller Lite Dodge Credits His 1999 Southwest Tour Win At Track For Helping Launch His Career-
SONOMA, Calif. (June 20, 2006) -- Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch will be making his 200th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start this weekend in the Dodge/Save Mart 350. The historic occasion could not come at a more appropriate location than at Infineon Raceway. After all, one might say that Busch's big-league racing career was launched at the winding road course located at the southern tip of the Sonoma Valley.
Here's the background:
In 1999, Kurt Busch 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 team, 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 the young Busch's career. For just two months after his 3.317-second victory over Mark Reed, he received a telephone call that eventually led to NASCAR's NEXTEL 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,'" Busch recalled. "I believe a lot of the teams were watching that day, plus the race was live on ESPN."
What the Cup teams witnessed that day was a young Busch driving to victory with a team primarily comprised of volunteers.
"We had one full-time guy," Busch said about the Craig Keough-owned team. "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."
Today, Busch admits that when the Las Vegas group journeyed to Sonoma they never thought they had a chance of winning the 64-lap race. But fate was riding with them that day.
"We came out of the pits in first and we had to hold off a couple of hard chargers," Busch said in recounting the race. "One guy broke his gear while he was running us down. There were some guys running from the West Series that day. It was a big win because it was unexpected for us."
The Infineon Raceway event was midway through the Southwest Tour schedule, and it was Busch's second victory. It also was Busch's second visit to the road course. He had raced there the previous season and finished third, giving him two top-three finishes in two visits to Infineon.
"There were so many oval races that they were the focus at the time," Busch said. "Then, road courses were just once or twice a year and I had no idea what I was doing when I got there. It was a laid back attitude. I was just going to learn; kinda like my first Busch race."
Busch noted that competing at Infineon Raceway in the Southwest Tour Series before facing the track in his NEXTEL Cup career provided him with the opportunity to learn the road course at a slower pace.
"What I mean by that is you're on the track, you make laps and you don't have the hustle and bustle of the Cup series practice to make sure you've got your car dialed in right," Busch explained. "So it gets you acclimated to the track quicker when you see it in a [different] series before you get there in Cup."
The Southwest Tour race also allowed Busch time to become familiar with the shift points on the course before tackling it in a Cup car. Still, it was the impact the race had on Busch's career that will always make Infineon Raceway a special track for the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion and driver of the Miller Lite Dodge.
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This weekend's schedule at Infineon Raceway calls for practice on Friday from 12:00 noon until 2:00 p.m. A single round of qualifying at 4:05 p.m. will determine Sunday's 43-car stating field. Saturday's action includes practice sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 (110 laps) has a 12:40 p.m. PDT starting time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and PRN Radio.