When the Haas Automation team arrived at the 1.5-mile oval in November 2014, it had a different, yet familiar look thanks to a crew swap between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick that went in place in preparation for the 2015 season. Busch, spotter Rick Carelli, and the No. 41 team’s pit crew were the only remaining members from the Haas Automation team that began the 2014 season. Crew chief Gibson, the mechanics, engineers and entire road crew from the No. 10 team began working on the Haas Automation Chevrolet.
In the 33 previous races in 2014, Busch scored his 25th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, six top-five and nine top-10 finishes. It’s not to say that performance was lacking, but the consistency needed to contend for the championship wasn’t where it needed to be.
The pairing of “old-school” guys for the final three races of the season quickly produced positive results. The pairing netted an outside pole in the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 8.7 in those last three races. It’s been more of the same in 2015.
A look at Busch’s career shows that he’s seemed to thrive when he’s paired with a crew chief who shares that same, old-school mentality that Gibson has. Busch has been quick to compare Gibson to Jimmy Fennig, with whom he won 14 Sprint Cup races and the 2004 championship.
In the nine races since the SHR team swap, Busch ranks seventh in fastest laps run, according to NASCAR’s Loop Data statistics. He’s eighth in laps led. His average running position of eighth is third-best, as is his average driver rating. What’s even more impressive is that he’s competed in three fewer races than the drivers ranked ahead of him in the standings.
Except for a 14th-place finish at Martinsville when the series last raced two weekends ago, Busch has placed no worse than 11th in every race since Homestead last year. He arguably had a win slip away three weekends ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but he was able to salvage a top-five finish there, as he did at Phoenix International Raceway the week prior.
The Las Vegas native would like nothing more than to score his first win of the season and his second in the Lone Star State Saturday night and virtually lock himself into the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. With the 16-driver Sprint Cup championship format, scoring a win virtually guarantees a driver and his team a berth in the Chase, provided they are among the top-30 in driver points.