Kurt Busch Changing Gears

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races 39 times a year – 36 points-paying events and a trio of non-points events in the Sprint Unlimited, the Budweiser Duals and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. That 39-race schedule takes competitors to a wide variety of venues, from short tracks to intermediate tracks to superspeedways to road courses. The majority of those events, however, take place on tracks labeled as ovals. In fact, series competitors race on oval tracks 94.8 percent of the time. That means Sprint Cup regulars compete on road courses just 5.2 percent of the time or, to put it another way, a whopping twice in 39 events.

With so few road races, it would seem they’d be mere blips on the radar relative to the entire Sprint Cup schedule. But that just isn’t the case and, oftentimes, the road courses have been the setting for some of the most dramatic and exciting events in any given year. 

The first chapter in the 2015 road-racing story unfolded less than two months ago in California’s Wine Country. It was a race that was both a memorable and historically significant chapter for the Busch family. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), qualified second on the 1.99-mile Sonoma, California road course and put on an impressive performance, leading 43 laps en route to a second-place finish. Meanwhile, his younger brother Kyle, who was sidelined for the first three months of the 2015 Sprint Cup season after suffering a broken right leg and fractured left foot suffered at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, earned his first victory of the season. The finish marked the first time the brothers have taken the checkered flag first and second in Sprint Cup competition.

This weekend, the brothers Busch can both be viewed as favorites. After all, they’ve both enjoyed their fair share of success on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Twice they’ve each raced their way to victory lane. The difference, however, is that Kyle’s wins came on Sundays while Kurt’s came on Saturdays.

The Haas Automation driver also has three poles and a third-place finish to add to his impressive pair of victories in NASCAR’s second tier Xfinity Series. Now he’d like for some of that success to transfer from Saturday to Sunday.

In NASCAR’s top series, the Las Vegas native has experienced a bit of a dry spell at The Glen. His best result in his 14 visits on the Sprint Cup side is a second-place finish in 2010. He owns a pair of top-five results there, the most recent of which came in this race one year ago.

The legendary road course’s long straightaways and fast, sweeping turns have proven their difficulty for some of the sport’s greatest drivers. Recent series champions Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth are all winless at the 2.45-mile venue. Road racers Boris Said and Ron Fellows have fallen short in their bid to upset the series regulars. Busch, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are among those who have victories at Sonoma but are winless in their attempts to conquer The Glen.

Busch’s win at Sonoma came in 2011. After qualifying 11th, he took the lead for the first time on lap 13 and he stayed there for the next 19 circuits. Busch relinquished the lead twice for scheduled green-flag pit stops, but took over the top spot for the final time on lap 88. He would lead the final 23 laps for a total of 76 laps led en route to the victory – his first and only Sprint Cup road-course win.

Busch would like nothing more than to add a victory at Watkins Glen to his already impressive resume this weekend in the second and final road-course race of 2015. Now that the Las Vegas native knows he’s all but assured of making his ninth career and third consecutive appearance in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship 10-race playoff, he can turn his focus to going all out and racing for additional wins in the final five regular-season events.

Another win would greatly improve the Haas Automation team’s standing in the Chase field as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase. Busch and the No. 41 team will put all their energy, focus and determination into finding their way to victory lane once again. Busch hopes his past successes at the New York road course will finally translate into a long-overdue Sprint Cup win, which would also bolster his position in the Chase.