For Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), there are racetracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule to which he’s been able to quickly adapt. There are others that took time to master. Then, there’s Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
He’s found his way to victory lane at 15 of 23 active racetracks on the circuit for a total of 29 career NASCAR Cup Series triumphs. His first came at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 97 Ford, he found his way to the winner’s circle in just his third start at the .533-mile oval. It took 32 attempts at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to find his way to victory lane, but he was finally able to do so in the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500.
At the eight mile-and-half venues where the NASCAR Cup Series competes, Busch has earned a total of six victories. They’ve come at four tracks – three at Atlanta Motor Speedway and one apiece at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch is still searching for victory lane at four – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Kansas.
Kansas has been a racetrack for Busch that has been complicated and vexing, but since being paired with crew chief Tony Gibson in 2015, he’s seen marked improvement. In the four races with Gibson atop the pit box, Busch has scored finishes of eighth, sixth, third and 13th for an average finish of 7.5. His average finish prior was 19th. So, while he has yet to find victory lane there, he has been able to compete at the track with the kind of consistency that could see him continue that trend of marked improvement this weekend.
Busch has been running at the end of all but two of the races he’s competed in at the 1.5-mile oval, the first DNF ending prematurely with an engine failure in 2003, the other due to an accident in October 2014. And in addition to a pair of top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 22 starts there, Busch owns one pole at Kansas, having scored the top starting spot in June 2011. The Kansas pole was the first of three consecutive poles Busch scored that month.
So, while a breakthrough victory at Kansas would add to the list of successes the Las Vegas native has experienced in his career, it would 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. With his postseason eligibility already in place, they can head west and look to finally conquer Kansas.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about racing at Kansas this weekend. How important is this race considering that this racetrack is part of the NASCAR Playoffs?
“Anytime we have a track that’s in the spring portion of our schedule and it matches up with a Playoff race in the fall, it’s very important. We’ll definitely have a full run log of what we want to accomplish and understand. And Kansas is in a unique spot, too, because it’s the week before we head to Charlotte for the All-Star and for the 600, so you’re trying to gather as much data through those few weeks because Charlotte is a very important race in the Playoffs, as well.”
Kansas hasn’t always been a strong racetrack for you but, as of late, that seems to be changing. Do you agree?
“Kansas has been a good track and a tough track. It’s fun to go race there and, with the way the tires change and the downforce has changed, I haven’t quite found that perfect combination to win. But, as of late, we consider it one of our strong tracks.”
What has been the key to your three top-10 finishes in three of your four most recent starts at Kansas?
“I think it’s a matter of being on the right pit strategy and understanding when to pit for the final time. Track position becomes so important at these fast mile-and-a-half tracks that, if you are stuck around 10th or 12th, there is no way to crack that top-five. You’ve got to be there before the final sequences start. But, honestly, a big part of it has been having this great car setup by Tony Gibson and everyone on the Haas Automation/Monster Energy team.”
What is one part of the racetrack or your driving style that you’ve had to work on at Kansas over the years?
“It always seems like turn four is the toughest part about Kansas, whether it’s the wind angle or the sharper corner exit with the SAFER Barrier jumping out at the cars. You either lose a lot of time or gain a lot of time in turn four at Kansas.”