Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) heads into this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City fresh off an eighth-place finish in Sunday’s 500-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. A respectable start to the Round of 12 in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but an even stronger one given the big picture.
It was a race in which the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion was able to overcome an ill-handling racecar, issues on pit road and damage sustained in a multicar incident. In addition, five of the 12 Chase contenders struggled with a myriad of issues. As a result, Busch enters Kansas with a 24-point cushion over ninth-place driver Austin Dillon. There couldn’t be a better time and place for Busch to turn in another solid finish than at Kansas, a track that has presented its fair share of challenges to the Las Vegas native but where his recent success has him feeling very optimistic.
Kansas has been a racetrack for Busch that has been complicated and vexing, but his three most recent finishes there have been entirely respectable – eighth, sixth and third. So, while he has yet to find victory lane there, he has been able to compete at the track with the kind of consistency that could cement his Chase advancement.
Busch has one pole at Kansas, scoring the top starting spot in June 2011. The Kansas pole was the first of three consecutive poles Busch scored that month. Additionally, he has been running at the end of all but two of the races he’s competed in at the 1.5-mile oval, the first of which ended prematurely with an engine failure in 2003, the other due to an accident in October 2014.
Busch’s record shows he has a knack for success at the eight mile-and-half venues where the Sprint Cup Series competes. Six of his 28 career victories have come at four of those tracks – three at Atlanta Motor Speedway and one apiece at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch is still searching for victory lane at the remaining four – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois; Kentucky Speedway in Sparta; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; and Kansas.
While a win would guarantee his advancement into the Round of 8 with some serious bravado, if Busch can turn in another performance this weekend at Kansas like he had Sunday, he would find himself in the envious position of not having to worry about what lies ahead at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, host of the third and final race in the Round of 12. Superspeedway events can produce wild, unpredictable racing with the possibility of large, multicar accidents at any moment, known as “the big one.” They eliminate large numbers of drivers from contention prematurely or, as is the case this year, from championship contention.
So, while a breakthrough victory at Kansas would add to the list of successes the Las Vegas native has experienced in his career, it would do much more than that for his 2016 championship hopes. A win this weekend would guarantee him a spot in the Round of 8 no matter what happens in next week’s daunting elimination race at Talladega.