The situation Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finds himself in entering Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth is one he’s quite familiar with.
For the second consecutive season, Busch heads to Texas on the heels of a less-than-desired finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. While those Martinsville finishes came in different fashion, the end result has him in the hole once again following the opening race in the Round of 8. Last year, he looked to be a lock for a top-five finish but, 66 laps shy of the checkered flag, contact with another car sent Busch airborne and into the backstretch wall, relegating him to a disappointing 34th-place finish. Sunday, Busch and his SHR team simply “missed it,” as he said afterward, having struggled with an ill-handling racecar that led to a 22nd-place finish.
Busch now heads to Texas once again ranked seventh among the eight remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers. He is 25 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 18 points behind fourth-place driver Kyle Busch. While he isn’t in as deep a points deficit as he was this time last year, he needs strong performances in the next two races if he is to continue his quest for his second Sprint Cup championship.
Busch arrives at the 1.5-mile Texas oval as a former winner there, having visited victory lane during the track’s November race in 2009. He started that race third and led 89 laps en route to the win. In 27 career starts at Texas, Busch has 15 top-10 finishes, including three of the last four Sprint Cup races there. Busch hopes this is the weekend he’ll be able to bring home his second Texas win in NASCAR’s top series. Should he be able to pull that off, it would essentially delete his 22nd-place finish at Martinsville and automatically make him one of the four drivers who will comprise the Championship 4, where the winner-take-all race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will determine the 2016 champion.
With Texas serving as the penultimate event of the 2016 season on a mile-and-a-half racetrack, the importance of this weekend’s 334-lap race will be two-fold for Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy team. They’ll race not only for the win and the continuation of their championship pursuit, but also to dial in their efforts for the final mile-and-a-half race at Homestead in order to be ready to either race for the championship or play the role of spoiler by winning the race should they find themselves on the outside looking in.