When asked how he attacks Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) said one word:.
Then, he added: “You rub the Buddha, you find lady luck, you say all your prayers and you hope you can get through.”
Despite holding a 17-point advantage over ninth-place driver Austin Dillon in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, Busch and his No. 41 team know they’re headed to a racetrack where anything can happen and that, without a win in the first two of three races in this year’s Chase Round of 12, their advancement into the Round of 8 is far from guaranteed.
Talladega has always been considered the wild-card race of the Chase, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands. However, at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, host of the opening race in the Round of 12, a number of the drivers in contention for the 2016 Sprint Cup championship found trouble, prompting some to compare the carnage to that typically seen at Talladega. Fortunately for Busch, he was one of the drivers who brought home a solid finish, making him feel a little more comfortable than a lot of others heading to Talladega. Make that as comfortable as one can feel headed to a racetrack where all cars are essentially equal, and you’ve got to rely on your competitors to help you as you attempt to figure out which line to get in and who to work with.
Talladega is one of only two racetracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where restrictor plates are used. By definition, a restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power. The use of a restrictor plate is intended to both limit speed and increase safety with an eye toward equaling the level of competition. Races at Talladega and its sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway are ones literally anyone can win. Horsepower-choked engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side at speeds approaching 200 mph.
Some drivers elect to drop to the back of the pack and ride, waiting until the late stages of the race to make their move toward the front of the field. Other drivers will do whatever they can to stay at the front of the field throughout the race. Other drivers find themselves stuck in the middle, an area that can be somewhat of a disaster zone.
One driver will win the race. Some drivers will finish. Others will be involved in the almost inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers prematurely. Busch hopes that he will be the winning driver for a couple of different reasons.
First, a superspeedway win is the only kind that has eluded Busch during his 17-year Sprint Cup career. With a victory this weekend, Busch would join an elite list of drivers who have won at every type of track on the Sprint Cup circuit: superspeedway, speedway, intermediate, short track and road course. But more importantly, it would do much more than that for the Las Vegas native’s 2016 championship hopes. A win this weekend would guarantee him a spot in the Round of 8.
After Sunday’s 188-lap race, eight of the 12 remaining Chase drivers will earn the chance to continue their playoff run beginning the following weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Busch hopes he will be one of those advancing, enabling his quest for a second Sprint Cup championship to continue.