Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will approach this weekend’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism with two agendas. While his immediate focus will be on the task at hand, getting as good a finish as possible, he’ll also approach the race as a test session for when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the concrete mile oval in October.
The June race at Dover is the 13th event of 26 that make up the regular season of NASCAR’s 2017 schedule. While this race pays the same amount of points as the rest of those races, it carries with it some additional importance for Busch. Having already won a race this year, the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Busch knows that his presence in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is all but guaranteed.
That’s why Busch will approach the weekend thinking about October and Dover’s significance in the 10-race playoff. As the third race in the opening round, Dover serves as the first elimination event. If Busch has solid outings in the first two playoff races at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, he can head to Dover with a little less pressure. Should he need a solid finish when he comes back to Dover, a racetrack that has given him struggles over the years, he’ll hope that some of the notebook he and his Tony Gibson-led team build this weekend can give them what they need to find success.
Dover is a high-banked, concrete, mile oval with a penchant for chewing up racecars and veteran drivers alike. It can be one of the more taxing racetracks on drivers and equipment with its abrasive surface and high banking. The “Monster Mile,” as it is affectionately known, is an appropriate nickname considering the speeds carried through its high banks and short straightaways that allow little to no room for error.
Busch has conquered Dover just once in his career, in October 2011. He pulled away from Jimmie Johnson on a pair of late-race restarts to earn his 24th NASCAR Cup Series victory. Otherwise, it’s been a struggle. He’s earned just one top-five finish since then – in this race last year when he was able to overcome a tough day of obstacles to record his seventh top-five at the concrete oval.
Busch also owns nine top-10 finishes in 33 starts. While he’ll look to earn both his second career Dover victory and second of 2017 Sunday, it would not be a disappointment to simply survive at one of the most difficult racetracks on the circuit and get a strong baseline for October. But he knows that scoring the win would also give him and his No. 41 team another five valuable bonus points for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.