Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), may be out of contention for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t do his best to play the role of spoiler in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway by winning the race.
The 2004 Sprint Cup champion was eliminated from contention Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway in the Eliminator Round of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. Despite having solid seventh-place finishes in the last two Eliminator Round events at Phoenix and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Busch was unable to overcome the deficit of a 34th-place finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where he was caught up in an incident not of his own making.
The 2015 season has been one of Busch’s strongest since winning the championship in 2004. That year, he claimed one pole, three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s and led 746 laps en route to sitting at the head table at the championship banquet. With one race remaining this season, he’s earned three poles, two wins, 10 top-fives and 20 top-10s in addition to leading 788 laps.
A key part of Busch’s successes this season have been mile-and-a-half racetracks. Of the eight races he’s competed in on those types of tracks this year, Busch has an average finish of eighth. He’s led laps in half those races, accounting for 220 of those 788 laps led. That being said, it’s easy to see why he’s looking forward to Sunday’s Sprint Cup finale at Homestead.
Before the Chase kicked off in September at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, Busch commented at media day that success at Chicagoland would translate to success at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, which would then translate to success at Miami. Each of the mile-and-a-half racetracks have aged asphalt and share the same tire combination. Busch’s Chase opened with a career-best third-place finish at Chicago, and he went on to finish seventh at Texas. He raced in those events knowing he had to get the best finish possible in order to score maximum points. This weekend, he heads to Miami with the intention of playing spoiler to the champion’s celebration because, as the cliché goes, he has no pressure on him, he has nothing to lose.
Speaking of spoilers, Sunday’s season finale at Homestead will also mark the final race in which the six-inch rear spoiler will be used. The 2015 rule package, which featured higher downforce, will go by the wayside in favor of a low-downforce setup that was utilized twice this season – at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway – in a rare, real-time test session. The 2016 rule package includes, among other things, a 3.5-inch spoiler, a reduction of the leading splitter edge, and a narrower radiator pan. That should make racing everywhere, especially mile-and-a-half racetracks, much more competitive with the lower downforce.
But there’s still one race remaining with the existing rule package. Enter this weekend’s event in Miami.
Since making his first Sprint Cup start at the 1.5-mile oval in 2000, Busch has one 2002 win, four top-fives and five top-10s at Homestead. While the South Florida track hasn’t historically been one of Busch’s strongest suits, it’s his recent success at mile-and-a-half racetracks that has him feeling confident heading into Sunday’s 400-miler.
Busch would like nothing more than to put one more mark in the win column before the 2015 season comes to a close. So Busch will attempt to play the role of spoiler this weekend in Miami, trying to steal the spotlight with a victory in the final race of the 2015 season.