Jim Clark and Graham Hill have won at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. So have Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt.
All these drivers won driving Formula One cars when the F1 calendar included The Glen from 1961 to 1980. Kurt Busch is looking to join these legend drivers as winners at The Glen this weekend, but he’s not going to do it behind the wheel of a Haas F1 Team, rather as driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
Busch’s road-course career started in 2000 as a young driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He finished second at Watkin Glen and 11th at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway. In his three NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen, he started first in each, won in 2006 and 2011, and finished third in 2007. In these three races, Busch led 98 of the 250 laps available – 39.2 percent.
In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Busch swept the poles for both road-course races in 2006. He won his fifth career Cup Series pole at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June and sixth at Watkins Glen in August, marking the only Cup Series poles Busch has earned on road courses.
He scored his first Cup Series road-course victory at Sonoma in 2011, leading a race-high 76 laps. Busch passed Denny Hamlin for the lead on lap 13 and stayed out front for the next 19 circuits around the 1.99-mile track. He relinquished the lead twice for scheduled, green-flag pit stops and took over the top spot for the final time on lap 88, leading the final 23 laps.
Busch is hoping the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion is up to the challenge at Watkins Glen. He has finished in the top-11 the last five years at The Glen, highlighted by a third-place drive in 2014.
Busch is hoping he can be a force on the road course at The Glen and join the legendary drivers who have seen victory lane.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve won a Cup Series race at Sonoma and won Xfinity races at Watkins Glen. What does it take to be successful on the road courses?
“I think the biggest thing, as a driver, is maintaining the pace throughout the race. I’ve struggled a little bit in the races at Watkins Glen with braking power and I was too hard on the brakes, early in the race. It’s weird, though, the Xfinity races I’ve run there and won, the brakes stayed consistent for me in that car. So I’ve just got to find the right combination with the Monster Energy Cup car because, at Sonoma, we never really had any brake issue. So I think that is the key. If we find that right balance, that will help us stay consistent, and then you have the lap times at the end of the race where you can be competitive for a win.”
Should NASCAR run the “Boot” at Watkins Glen?
“It would be interesting to see how it would play out. Are the corners in the boot too slow compared to the rest of the corners? And then I’ve heard that if we ran the boot, then the number of laps would be fewer because the track is longer. And then the fans only get to see the cars come by them X amount of times and that’s why I’ve heard we don’t run the boot.”
Is there a road course in the world that you would like to run that you haven’t? Is there a “bucket list” track for you?
“Oh yeah – to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or Monaco. I’ve never been to Laguna Seca. I’ve always raced in Sonoma and been to Northern California many times, but I’ve never even gone to the property of Laguna Seca. I’ve just seen it on TV and video games. I would love to go there.”
Is road-course racing a little more intense than it was in years past?
“It just seems like the gentlemen’s agreement or the etiquette of how road-course races were run in years past is less and less each year. Everybody’s really bumping and grinding a lot harder. They’re not afraid to throw in the front bumper when it’s not supposed to be in that position. That’s why I think the road courses have become the fan favorites because of the energy level and the amount of contact that is available at the road courses. You can feel it, you can sense it in the car, you know when you go to Sonoma or Watkins Glen that the contact is going to be there and guys aren’t afraid to mix it up anymore. It will be pretty wild to have a road-course race during the playoffs this year at Charlotte. We’ll see how that plays out. What I like is that there is a road course that will be in the playoffs and that’s going to require the drivers to be more versatile.”