Kurt Busch Realizes The Importance Of The Mile And A Half Tracks Like Kentucky Speedway

Kurt Busch

 Quick, name the only 1.5-mile oval the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit between now and the start of the 10-race playoffs. If you answered Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, go to the head of the line.

Five of the 10 races in the playoffs take place on 1.5-mile ovals, making Kentucky a valuable track to not only earn a race win and stage bonus points to secure one’s playoff position, but to also gain valuable data for a championship drive that culminates on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

If you’re standing at the head of the line when the checkered flag drops at Homestead, it means you’re the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Kurt Busch was in this very position in 2004 when he won the championship in its first playoff guise.

That a title-winning party in South Beach can trace its origins to the Upland South region of Kentucky is not far-fetched. Twice the winner of the Kentucky 400 has gone on to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship – Brad Keselowski in 2012 and Kyle Busch in 2015.

There have only been six NASCAR Cup Series races at Kentucky since the series made its inaugural trip to the track in 2011. Kurt Busch, while winless at Kentucky, has knocked down a top-five finish, four top-10s and led a total of 51 laps. His average start is 11.5 and his average finish is 10th. Also impressive is his 100-percent lap completion rate, where the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion has completed all 1,602 laps available.

Busch’s best Kentucky performance came in last year’s race when he qualified third and led once for 10 laps before finishing fourth. The third-place qualifying effort equaled his best at Kentucky, first earned in the inaugural Cup Series race in 2011. And his fourth-place finish was his best at the track, topping his previous best of sixth secured in the 2013 race.

That fourth-place finish allowed Busch to check off another stat box on his tenured Cup Series resume, as it gave Busch a top-five at every track on the Cup Series schedule. Prior to last year, Kentucky was the only omission.

Busch returns to the Bluegrass State with back-to-back top-10 finishes in the Kentucky 400. He’s eager to upgrade those performances with a win and simultaneously notch his milestone 30th career NASCAR Cup Series victory to take sole possession of 25th on the all-time Cup Series win list.

While victory at Kentucky is in his immediate sights, a strong performance aids Busch’s long-term goal of securing another championship. Between participating in a Goodyear tire test May 9-10 at Kentucky and coming out of Saturday night’s Kentucky 400 with another strong drive, Busch believes Kentucky can take him to Homestead.

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing: 
 

You’re 14th in points with nine races to go before the playoffs begin. Ten different winners are already taking up 16 of the available spots. How important is your Daytona 500 victory in the scope of securing your playoff position?

“It’s vital. It’s definitely a nice safety net to have for our Haas Automation/Monster Energy team. Once we went to the West Coast early in the year, we struggled with alternator issues and missed the setup a few times with the new balance of our Ford versus where we were last year. And then since Texas, though, I think we’ve turned a good corner to find good, consistent runs. Like Kansas, I was running fifth on the last restart and we ended up 19th just getting hit by Denny (Hamlin) on that last restart. Similarly, at Michigan, we were running 10th and got 12th at the end with Jimmie Johnson passing us on the outside. We’re running better, but we’re just not capitalizing on any of the stage points. That’s been the toughest part so far this year and that’s why we’re down a little bit in points.”

How would you assess your season so far?

“To start off winning the biggest stock car race in the world and to have the chance to hoist up the Harley J. Earl trophy – that was a special moment and the highlight of my career. That isn’t something to rest on. I would say a few weeks after that, we were slightly hungover, not necessarily literally, it just seemed like a fog. There was a lot of energy. All of us were so excited. We’re ordering rings, flags. We’re taking the Harley J. Earl trophy to Ford’s headquarters, Monster Energy’s headquarters, Haas Automation’s headquarters – there was a lot going on. Once we settled in and learned the balance of our Ford Fusion and how things were changing here and there, quite honestly, I think we’ve done great. In half the races this year we have a top-10 finish. We have to focus on the mile-and-a-halves and making sure we are best prepared for when the playoffs start”

Did winning right out of the gate this year change your approach to this season?

“The way that it seems to have unfolded the last few years for us on the 41 car is we’re always building up to that win. We’re running well with a top-five here and there and a bad day might be 12th. When we broke through at Pocono last summer for the win, then it seems like it was a struggle after we won. You have to get it rebuilt and adjust and not get complacent and get ready for the playoffs. So when you win the first race of the year, it changes the game in how you have to adjust and build it back up.”

You mentioned the importance of the mile-and-a-half tracks. Kentucky is the only mile-and-a-half racetrack before the playoffs start. How important is this race?

“Well, we tested at Kentucky earlier this year (May 9-10) working with Goodyear on the tires. I know that we have a Chicago test (Aug. 15-16) with Goodyear on the tire that they’re wanting to bring to that race. A lot of it is getting into sim work. I was on the Ford Performance simulator before we went out to Sonoma, and then there are the computer simulation models that the engineers use. I think it’s just getting into more details and gaining a further understanding of what it’s going to take to be successful at Chicago, Dover, Charlotte, Kansas and Texas. Texas is one of the most important races, or at least it used to be, because the asphalt surface was very comparable to Homestead. Right now, I think the two most important races coming up are Kentucky and Chicago if we’re gearing up for a championship run.”

You’ve been competing at Kentucky since its beginning, running the track’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2000. The track has changed quite a bit even since the NASCAR Cup Series began racing at Kentucky in 2011. What did you think of the place when you first arrived as a Truck Series rookie?

“I went there for the first time when I was racing Trucks. It was an inaugural race and I thought that since it was the first time anyone went there that rookies had just as good of a shot to win as veterans. I overdrove that race every ounce I could and ended up wrecking with about 15 laps to go while running in the lead pack. I hit pretty hard. I think that was one of the hardest hits I’ve taken. Kentucky stood up and bit me the first time I was there. And, up until recently, we never ran a Cup race there, so we used it as a test facility. So, my time when I was at Roush, I think we were there every other Tuesday making laps. So, I had plenty of laps at Kentucky, but not in race configuration.”

Richard Petty turned 80 earlier this week. What are your thoughts on The King and his contributions to the sport?

“He’s our King. He deserves a full year of celebration. He’s a true pioneer of our sport. Two hundred race wins. Seven championships. The legacy that the Petty family has is incomparable, and it’s great that he’s still here and signs autographs every week. He’s the most charismatic guy and his personality is so big. Every time you see him at the track, he’s got his hat and sunglasses on and he’s just happy-go-lucky, and yet he is the face of our sport when it really comes time to reaching back to our past. My favorite moment was watching him win his 200th at Daytona and having Kentucky Fried Chicken with President Reagan. And the time I got to meet him at Richard Petty Motorsports in Level Cross, North Carolina – that was a big moment of walking into the King’s office and being there where the history of our sport has been rooted.  It was really neat to go to his office and share a moment with him.”

Haas Automation/Monster Energy Racing Team Report
Round 18 of 36 –  Kentucky 400 – Sparta 

 

Car No.: 41 – Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion

 

PR Contact: Mike Arning, True Speed Communication (704-875-3388, ext. 802, Mike.Arning@TrueSpeedCommunication.com)

Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kurt Busch
Hometown: Las Vegas
Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
Hometown: Daytona Beach, Florida
Car Chief: Chad Haney
Hometown: Fairmont, West Virginia

Engine Builder: Roush-Yates Engines
Headquarters: Mooresville, North Carolina

 

Engine Specialist: Todd Hamm
Hometown: Kutztown, Pennsylvania

 

Spotter: Tony Raines
Hometown: LaPorte, Indiana

Over-The-Wall Crew Members:
Gas Man: Rick Pigeon
Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont
Front Tire Changer: Shane Pipala
Hometown: Frankfort Square, Illinois

Second Gas Man: Matt Schlytter

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida

Front Tire Carrier: Jon Bernal
Hometown: Holland, Michigan
Windshield: Jay Guarneri (also serves as interior mechanic)
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Rear Tire Changer: Coleman Dollarhide
Hometown: Hickory, North Carolina
Jackman: Sean Cotten
Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Rear Tire Carrier: Dwayne Moore
Hometown: Griffin, Georgia
Road Crew Members:
Truck Driver: Todd Cable and Rocky Boggs
Hometowns: Shelby, North Carolina, and Burlington, North Carolina
Tire Specialist: Jeff Zarrella
Hometown: Southington, Connecticut
Shock Specialist: Brian Holshouser
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Engineers: Johnny Klausmeier and Mike Cook
Hometowns: Perry Hall, Maryland, and Annapolis, Maryland

Mechanic: J.D. Frey
Hometown: Ferndale, California

 

Mechanic: Andy Spenner
Hometown: Hoyleton, Illinois
Chassis No. 003:
 

Chassis No. 003 is only the third chassis Stewart-Haas Racing has built completely in house, and the first in-house chassis used by the No. 41 team. It was built at the beginning of 2017 and turned its first laps during a Goodyear tire test May 9-10 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. Chassis No. 003’s first race came later that month in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway where it qualified 12th and ran inside the top-10 all night before finishing sixth. Chassis No. 003 returns to Kentucky for its second career start.

Kentucky Notes of Interest:
 

● The Kentucky 400 will mark Busch’s 594th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his seventh career NASCAR Cup Series start at Kentucky.

 

● Busch has career total totals of 29 wins, 21 poles, 127 top-fives, 251 top-10s and 8,867 laps led in 593 starts.

► His most recent Cup Series win came 16 races ago in the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (Feb. 26, 2017).

► His last Cup Series pole came 49 races ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway(March 4, 2016).

 

● Busch has one top-five, four top-10s and has led a total of 51 laps in his six career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Kentucky. His average start is 11.5, his average finish is 10.0 and he has a 100 percent lap completion rate, completing all 1,602 laps available.

 

● Personal Best – Busch’s best NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky came in his most recent Cup Series start. In last year’s Kentucky 400, Busch qualified third and led once for 10 laps before finishing fourth. The third-place qualifying effort equaled his best at Kentucky, first earned in the inaugural Cup Series race in 2011. And his fourth-place finish was his best at the track, topping his previous best of sixth secured in the 2013 race.

 

● Check It Off The List – When Busch finished fourth last year at Kentucky, he succeeded in earning a top-five finish at every track the NASCAR Cup Series visits. Prior to last year, the only track where Busch did not have a top-five was Kentucky.

 

● Back-to-Back – Busch comes into Kentucky with two straight top-10 finishes in the Kentucky 400 (10th in 2015 and fourth in 2016).

 

● Busch’s first career start at Kentucky came on June 17, 2000 in the track’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. It was a rough outing for the Truck Series rookie as he qualified his Ford F-150 32nd and finished 29th. But before crashing out on lap 112, Busch led 12 laps. It remains Busch’s only Truck Series start at Kentucky.

 

● Busch has two NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Kentucky, as he competed in both of the series’ visits to the Bluegrass State in 2012. Busch’s best finish is second, earned on June 29.

 

● So Far in 2017 – Busch has accumulated a win, two top-fives and eight top-10s in 17 NASCAR Cup Series starts.

 

● Get to the Points – With his 28th-place finish last Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Busch enters Kentucky 14th in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings, 259 points behind series leader Kyle Larson.

Haas Automation Partner Notes:
 

The No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion will carry decals on the lower-rear quarter panel for:

 

JBK Manufacturing & Development Co. (www.jbkmfg.com) – Located at 2127 Troy Street in Dayton, Ohio,JBK Manufacturing was founded in 1981 as a supplier of precision machined parts and fabrications. Early on, the JBK commitment to quality and delivery was noticed by customers and, in 1987, the company was awarded a contract to manufacture lubrication jets for the innovative V-22 aircraft transmission. A supplier relationship that began with just one oil jet for a single platform quickly expanded to include the development and manufacture of close tolerance, machined parts for multiple aerospace customers. By 1995, JBK’s customer base had expanded to include a host of commercial and industrial markets. It is now a Tier I supplier to multiple aerospace customers and serves a host of customers in oil and energy, paper, medical and government. One thing that has not changed since the beginning is JBK Manufacturing’s unwavering commitment to quality and delivery.

 

Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) Cleveland, a division of Midwest Manufacturing Resources Inc. (www.hfomidwest.com) – Located at 1993 Case Parkway North in Twinsburg, Ohio, HFO Cleveland is the exclusive dealer for Haas Automation CNC machine tools in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. All Haas machines come with the most user-friendly CNC controls in the industry, and the Haas Platinum One-Call policy provides expert service and dependable, immediate response. Midwest Manufacturing Resources also supports manufacturing education through the Haas Technical Education Centers at Sinclair Community College and the University of Louisville, among others.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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