If there are races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit that Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has high expectations for, the two trips to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway have to be at the top of the list. The 2.5-mile triangle has been home to a number of milestones for the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team and, statistically, happens to be its strongest racetrack on the circuit.
Two of the SHR’s 37 NASCAR Cup Series wins have come there. The first came June 7, 2009, when team co-owner Tony Stewart scored the first points-paying Cup Series victory for SHR by winning the Pocono 500 by 2.004 seconds over second-place Carl Edwards. It marked the first time a driver-owner had won a points-paying Cup Series race since Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
SHR also owns 17 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s in a combined 46 starts, both high-water marks for the championship-winning team co-owned by Stewart and Gene Haas, the founder of Haas Automation, the largest computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine-tool builder in North America.
The team’s most-recent win at Pocono came in this race last year, when Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion, was able to overcome team and fuel challenges to win the rain-delayed Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400. The win was Busch’s 28th career Cup Series victory, his third at Pocono and his lone triumph of the 2016 season.
In addition to Busch’s three Pocono triumphs, he also has 13 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 31 starts there, which equal his career-high top-fives at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and career-high top-10s at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Additionally, Busch’s solid performance statistics extend beyond tradition and into some pretty stout loop data numbers as he ranks in the top-five in a several categories, including average running position, average speed early in a run, average speed late in a run, fastest laps run, fastest laps on a restart, green-flag speed, laps in the top-15, laps led and more. Add it all up and it equates to the top driver rating at the “Tricky Triangle.”
A return to Pocono couldn’t come at a better time for Busch. Since scoring the win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Busch has struggled to find the consistency he’s become so accustomed to. A glance at the upcoming schedule gives him the optimism he’ll soon find a way to end his search. And it all starts this weekend at Pocono, where he’ll look to score his fourth victory at one of the most unique racetracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit and his second of the 2017 season.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes Pocono so unique?
“Just the fact that it’s different in the way that each of the straightaways has its different length, the corners have their banking. It’s not a typical oval in that you get to shift at an oval track. It blends a lot of road-racing techniques into an oval technique.”
What is the one thing you know you are going to have to work on when you return to Pocono?
“The one thing you know is shifting. You have to work on that. But, each time we go back, the setups change so rapidly that you have to find the right setup to gain the speed, whether it’s turn one, turn two or turn three. Each time there, you have to challenge the track and the car’s technology.”
Of the three turns, which is the most important to you, and why?
“It’s weird, I’ve had winning cars there a few different times and turn two always feels the best when my car has a chance to go to victory lane. But, I think turn three, if you are able to pass cars and maneuver around them, you’ve got to get a good run off turn three to be ready to pass them in turn one. All of them are important. You can’t exclude one from another.”