Kurt Busch is ready for the sectional round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Busch and the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) earned one of the final eight playoff positions and have three races to make it into the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If one notices the term “sectional,” think back to the old Indiana High School basketball championship, which was contested in a single classification for all schools until 1997. It took four rounds to get the final four – or state championship – weekend. The format went sectional, regional, semi-state and final four.
So this week’s First Data 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway race is the “sectional” round for Busch.
And what a history Martinsville has considering it opened for business in 1947, two years before NASCAR came to be. Every series champion including Busch has competed at the track, which has hosted Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events twice a year since 1950.
Martinsville is the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule and, viewed from the air, its looks like a paperclip as its long straightaways lead into tight, flat turns. The racing there can be described as “give-and-take,” with drivers giving some bumps and taking some bumps while dozens of cars constantly fight for space in its tight confines.
So, no matter how good a driver’s car is, one does need a bit of luck to win at Martinsville. Several drivers have been leading late in the 500-lap race only to be nudged out of the way in the closing laps. A good vehicle is needed, but also that stroke of luck.
Should Busch win this weekend, he’ll not only score a final-four berth, but once again score one of the most unique and coveted trophies in NASCAR – the Ridgeway Furniture Company’s grandfather clock that’s given to race winners at Martinsville Speedway.
The tradition of giving the famous grandfather clock to the winner of every NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville got its start in 1964. Henry Clay Earles, who founded the short track, was inspired to use the grandfather clock as his trophy when Curtis Turner told him he had to start finding storage room for his trophies and give some away, as well. It was then that NASCAR’s most iconic trophy was born.
Busch already has a pair of grandfather clocks for winning the fall Martinsville race in 2002 and the spring race in 2014 – the latter win for SHR. He also won the pole positon for the fall race in 2006.
He knows he will have a good Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion from crew chief Billy Scott this weekend. He’s also hoping for a stroke of luck, as well.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How much does pit strategy become a factor at Martinsville?
“It’s definitely something that comes into play. You may gamble early to pick up some positions on the track, especially if you’ve had trouble in qualifying. It’s just one of those things, though, where you always hope you’re on the right one (strategy) and, if you get caught on the wrong one, then you’re kicking yourself the whole time.”
How much more important is track position at a place like Martinsville?
“Track position is everything, everywhere, but at Martinsville it is just so easy to lose it. It doesn’t take much to find yourself going backward, whether it’s a situation with someone bumping you out of the way or you get too high on the track and up in the marbles. Then, deal with what that does to the tires and, boom, next thing you know, you may have had a 10th-place car and now you are 18th. It’s a goal all day to work your way forward and then just to have smooth pit stops to carry you through those midpoints of the race. Then, at the end, when everything is on the line, you have to be aggressive and you can’t be afraid to use the fenders on people to get that solid finish.”
What is the toughest part about racing at Martinsville?
“To me, the toughest part about Martinsville is you just never have a moment to breathe. You have to be on your game nonstop for 500 laps because somebody’s on you, or you are on top of somebody the whole time, and there’s just no room for error.”