When Kurt Busch, driver of the Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), takes to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, he will do so in the very first, all in-house-built No. 41 Ford Fusion.
For Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, the largest computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine-tool builder in North America, the term “very first” has significance. It goes back to the first machine manufactured by Haas Automation, the VF-1, in 1988. The “V” stands for vertical, which is an industry standard designation for a vertical mill. Haas added “F1” to the name to unofficially designate it as the company’s “Very First One.”
The tradition continued when Haas was granted a Formula One license by the FIA. When Haas F1 Team unveiled its “Very First Racecar” at preseason testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, it was billed as the “VF-16” to mark both the milestone and the season it debuted.
So this weekend, Busch will attempt to duplicate the success Haas’ other very first ones have had. And he’ll do so in one of the most demanding races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Aside from the distinction of being the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 is also one of the most prestigious events on the circuit due in no small part to its durability implications – it’s a race that tests man and machine.
Endurance is a concept with which competitors in the NASCAR Cup Series are well acquainted. Every race run tests the endurance of its drivers, whether they’re racing 300, 400 or 500 miles. That weekly test gets a little more aggressive as the series prepares for its marathon 600-mile race.
Busch is among the drivers who have met the challenges that come with competing in the 600, winning the 2010 version of the annual Memorial Day-weekend event. After just missing out on the pole that year, Busch started second and wasted no time jumping to the lead. He took over the top spot on lap 12 and led the next 40 laps before surrendering the lead briefly for a round of green-flag pit stops. Busch owned the lead 12 different times for a race-high 252 laps, including the final 19. With the win, he became the seventh driver in series history to follow a victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race with a win in the 600 a week later.
So, while another triumph Sunday would put Busch in elite company with drivers Richard Petty, Fred Lorenzen, Neil Bonnett, Jim Paschal, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick as a two-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, it would also do much more than that for his 2017 championship hopes, as it would give Busch and his No. 41 team a second victory in 2017 and another five valuable bonus points for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.