Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has established a fairly coded system of results at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, where this year’s 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship playoffs begin Sunday. In 14 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Busch has finished either sixth or eighth in half of those races.
A finish of sixth or eighth would be a good start to the Chase for Busch. While a win would guarantee his advancement from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round, consistent finishes in the first three races would guarantee the same. Under the previous Chase format, drivers looked at the postseason as a 10-race stretch. Now, it’s taken three races at a time.
A glance at the 2014 Chase confirms that consistency carried the same weight as a win. Ryan Newman was one of the final four drivers to make it to the Championship Round, and he did so despite going winless on the season. Denny Hamlin, another driver who made it to the Championship Round, won early in the season but went winless in the Chase. Consistent results were enough for both drivers to have them competing against Joey Logano, who won five races on the season and two in the Chase, and Busch’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, who also won five races on the season, including three in the Chase.
Consistently finishing sixth or eighth throughout the Chase could add up to championship numbers for Busch. After all, Harvick’s average finish in his 2014 championship-winning Chase races was 8.5. Being consistent and eliminating mistakes while putting pressure on others to do just that would certainly go a long way in Busch’s efforts to advance through each of the elimination rounds this season. Granted, with wins carrying a guaranteed transfer, Busch will set his goals higher than that.
Starting Sunday, Busch and his No. 41 team have 10 races to prove they are the best of the 16 drivers who comprise the 2015 Chase field. Consistency, top-five finishes and wins are what the Haas Automation team will need to contend for this year’s championship. They’ll only look as far ahead as the next race. The driver and team know that knocking off the best possible finishes one race at a time will ultimately put them right where they want to be when the checkered flag flies at the final Chase race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.