When Kurt Busch, driver of the Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), takes to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, he will do so in the very first, all in-house-built No. 41 Ford Fusion.
For Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, the largest computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine-tool builder in North America, the term “very first” has significance. It goes back to the first machine manufactured by Haas Automation, the VF-1, in 1988. The “V” stands for vertical, which is an industry standard designation for a vertical mill. Haas added “F1” to the name to unofficially designate it as the company’s “Very First One.”
The tradition continued when Haas was granted a Formula One license by the FIA. When Haas F1 Team unveiled its “Very First Racecar” at preseason testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, it was billed as the “VF-16” to mark both the milestone and the season it debuted.
So this weekend, Busch will attempt to duplicate the success Haas’ other very first ones have had. And he’ll do so in one of the most demanding races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Aside from the distinction of being the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 is also one of the most prestigious events on the circuit due in no small part to its durability implications – it’s a race that tests man and machine.
Endurance is a concept with which competitors in the NASCAR Cup Series are well acquainted. Every race run tests the endurance of its drivers, whether they’re racing 300, 400 or 500 miles. That weekly test gets a little more aggressive as the series prepares for its marathon 600-mile race.
Busch is among the drivers who have met the challenges that come with competing in the 600, winning the 2010 version of the annual Memorial Day-weekend event. After just missing out on the pole that year, Busch started second and wasted no time jumping to the lead. He took over the top spot on lap 12 and led the next 40 laps before surrendering the lead briefly for a round of green-flag pit stops. Busch owned the lead 12 different times for a race-high 252 laps, including the final 19. With the win, he became the seventh driver in series history to follow a victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race with a win in the 600 a week later.
So, while another triumph Sunday would put Busch in elite company with drivers Richard Petty, Fred Lorenzen, Neil Bonnett, Jim Paschal, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick as a two-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, it would also do much more than that for his 2017 championship hopes, as it would give Busch and his No. 41 team a second victory in 2017 and another five valuable bonus points for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts about the Coke 600 this weekend?
“This weekend’s race is a big one and, being that it’s here in our backyard, it’s almost like a hometown race for everybody. All of the guys who work at the shop and don’t get to go to the track on a weekly basis usually get to come out and see all of their hard work on display. You want to really put the banner up for your team.”
What do you do to get ready for what is the longest race of the year?
“It’s just a marathon mentality. It’s the exact opposite of the All-Star Race. The race starts during the daytime and, even if you’re getting behind early in the race – although you can’t get too far behind – it’s difficult to find a setup that works well at both the beginning and end of the race because of how much the track changes from start to finish. It’s the end of the race, though, when they hand out the points and the check, so you hope your car will race the same way at the end as it did for the All-Star Race, provided you had a good All-Star Race. The mentality is that it’s just pit stop after pit stop with long sequence after long sequence. The All-Star Race is a 100-yard dash. The 600 is a marathon.”
Talk about the 2010 Coca-Cola 600, when you had such a dominant car.
“Well, to start, we just missed out on the pole. That’s one thing that sticks in my mind. You know how racers are – we want to win them all. That race, we were so good in the daytime that I was scared of what was going to happen when the sun went down and the track started to change and how the race would play out. I mean, you never really have a good car at the beginning and have it stay underneath you for the nighttime. It’s just the way you’ve always seen that race play out. But that car was that good. It was what we saw with it in the All-Star Race the week before. It was fast during both of those weekends. So it’s amazing how you can stumble across little things that make all of the difference in the world. Again, I was leading the beginning of the race just pacing myself. The car was so good in the daytime and I literally thought we would end up a lap down at night because cars never stay the same as the race goes on. But it worked out and we got the win in the 600.”