It’s difficult to believe, but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is reaching its halfway point. It seems like just yesterday all the haulers were loading into Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for February’s season-opening 60th Daytona 500.
The haulers will enter Daytona International Speedway once again Thursday for the 18th event of the 2018 season, the Coke Zero Sugar 400. After this race, it will be 18 down, 18 more to go.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has had a successful start to the season. He is seventh in points and has three top-five finishes, nine top-10s and 12 top-15s in 17 races. He’s won two Busch Pole Awards and has led 284 laps – the most he’s led since he led 788 for the full 2015 season.
However, Busch has not yet won in 2018 and he hopes to change that this week at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.
He won the biggest race of his career in February 2017 at Daytona, the 59th Daytona 500.
With a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson in turns one and two, Busch won the “Great American Race” in his 17th attempt. In leading the only lap that mattered, Busch scored his first points-paying NASCAR Cup Series win on a restrictor-plate racetrack, giving him victories on every type of circuit the series visits – short tracks, high-banked ovals, flat tracks and road courses.
He’s also performed well in exhibition races at Daytona.
Busch won both the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the first Can-Am Duel qualifying race at Daytona in 2011. He led three laps and beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by .058 of a second to win the Clash in 2011. Five days later, he went on to lead seven laps and beat Regan Smith to win the first Can-Am Duel 150 by .065 of a second. Busch narrowly missed a clean sweep of 2011 Speedweeks by finishing fifth in the Daytona 500, which was won by rookie Trevor Bayne.
The midterm is upon us and Busch is hoping is he can pass with a big victory that would lock him into the playoffs.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes success in restrictor-plate racing so elusive?
“I think being in the right place at the right time is one of the toughest things to do, but you have to have that to be successful. When you have a car built by (crew chief) Billy Scott and Stewart-Haas Racing, you feel like you have the best bullet possible when you show up for your first practice session. So, I’m thankful to have Billy Scott and everyone from SHR on my side when it comes to superspeedway racing.”
While teamwork is a part of restrictor-plate racing, eventually you need to look out for yourself. At what point in the race do you do that?
“You’re looking out for yourself on lap one, but the percentage of it changes throughout the race. You want to work together as much as you can with teammates and other guys and gals that you’ve worked with in the past. But once it gets down to the final set of tires and the final fuel run, you’re really working independently. If it comes down to a late-race restart at Daytona, what goes through my mind is it isn’t going to be the last restart. So you have to be ready to roll with whatever comes your way – what drafting lane you’re in, where your teammates are and what game plan you have put together with them. There are so many different things going on that it’s kind of like a roulette wheel – when you spin and you’ve got your money laid down, you hope you have your money in enough areas to come out on top.”
You need drafting partners in order to be successful in a restrictor-plate race. How do you pick your dance partners?
“You just quickly digest if they’re around you, in front of you, behind you. Every restart things change, every lap things change, but you’re always keeping them in mind to try and work with them.”
How much of what you experienced in the Daytona 500 is applicable to the Coke Zero 400?
“A lot of it. We finished second at Talladega. That’s all you’re trying to do – putting yourself in position to win, and that’s what we want to do again in July at Daytona.”