One race down, nine to go until the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is crowned. Ten years after winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2004, Kurt Busch has his eyes set on that ultimate prize once again.
To claim the championship crown a second time, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has to “survive and advance” through a series of elimination rounds throughout NASCAR’s revamped 10-race playoff.
The new championship format breaks the 10-race Chase into a four-round grid. The first round, named the Challenger Round, features races at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and Dover (Del.) International Speedway. After Dover, four drivers are eliminated and 12 drivers remain for the next round, named the Contender Round. The three races of the Contender Round will be run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. After Talladega, just eight drivers will remain for the next round, named the Eliminator Round. Races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Phoenix International Raceway will comprise the Eliminator Round. After Phoenix, just four drivers will remain for the following week’s championship race and season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At Homestead, the goal is simple – the highest finisher among the final four drivers will be the 2014 Sprint Cup champion.
Race winners from each round automatically advance to the next round, with the remaining advancing teams determined by total points accumulated. While Busch didn’t get the win at Chicagoland, an eighth-place finish moved him to ninth place in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship point standings.
This weekend, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into New Hampshire, Busch hopes to add his name to the list of winners who automatically advance to the next round of the Chase.
And it would be fitting for Busch to get that all-important victory this weekend in Loudon, because the mile oval is a track that helped Busch to solidify his Sprint Cup championship dreams 10 years ago.
Busch has three Sprint Cup Series wins in 27 starts at the “Magic Mile.” He earned his first win at New Hampshire in July 2004 despite having to overcome a 32nd-place qualifying result. At a tight, narrow track like New Hampshire, track position is everything and he overcame the deficit quickly, taking over the top spot on lap 171 and leading the next 42 circuits around the track. Busch would lead the final 68 laps of the event before going on to score the win.
He quickly followed his first New Hampshire win with a second victory less than two months later to complete a sweep of the track’s 2004 races. In the September race, Busch scored the “W” in dominating fashion, leading a race-high 155 laps after starting seventh. Additionally, the win catapulted Busch into the lead in the championship standings in the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Busch earned his third New Hampshire Sprint Cup win in July 2008. It was a rain-shortened event and Busch led only 10 laps, but they were the most important laps as they were the final 10 of the 284 run that day.
With six top-13 finishes in the past six races, including two consecutive top-10s – his eighth-place effort at Chicagoland last weekend and a seventh-place finish at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway – Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation team hope to continue riding a wave of momentum to another solid finish at New Hampshire.
Busch hopes that once again the “Magic Mile” proves to live up to its moniker and will be magical in his quest for his second championship. Ten years ago, a New Hampshire victory kicked off Busch’s march to the 2004 Sprint Cup championship. This weekend, Busch hopes that history will repeat itself and help him get one step closer to being crowned the Sprint Cup champion once again.