Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows a thing or two about winning non-points-paying races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Of the 15 drivers currently qualified for Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Busch is one of only seven who has scored victories in each of the three exhibition races on the schedule. Those would be the All-Star Race at Charlotte, and two events at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the Can-Am Duels that set the starting field for the Daytona 500, and The Clash, which is the non-points race that kicks off the season there each year.
Both of Busch’s wins at Daytona came in 2011. His win in The Clash came after he swept past Ryan Newman off the final turn, thanks to drafting help from Jamie McMurray. In claiming the checkered flag, he became the 19th different winner of the event that began in 1979. Although it wasn’t a points-paying win, it was the first restrictor-plate victory of Busch’s career. Five days later, Busch again drove into victory lane, this time in the first Can-Am Duel. He started sixth and drafted with Regan Smith all afternoon en route to the win.
And, in a race where drama is always at a premium because its competitors have a million reasons to get to victory lane, Busch’s win in the 2010 All-Star Race was no exception. He started the $1 million-to-win race from the pole and brushed the wall early, but was able to get back to the front of the field after the final mandatory pit stop that set up a 10-lap shootout to the finish. He went on to avoid a late multicar accident en route to his first All-Star Race victory.
This weekend, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion is ready to earn his second All-Star title.
Unlike any other event, the All-Star Race is about the fame, the glory, and a cool $1 million. And with no points on the line, Busch and his crew can do what it takes to earn the win.
This year’s All-Star format will include three 20-lap stages with the winner of each locking up a spot in the final segment, as long as he or she remains on the lead lap. The rest of the 10-competitor field in the final segment will be made up of the drivers with the best average finish in the first three segments, meaning some drivers will be eliminated from the race before the final stage. Cars will be lined up for the final stage by average finish during the first three stages – the driver with the best average finish will be positioned first, the driver with the worst average finish positioned 10th. Pit road will then open for an optional pit stop. The order off pit road sets the lineup for the final 10-lap segment.
Each team will be granted one set of softer tires to use at their discretion as part of their tire allocation for the race. The softer tires are designed to provide more grip and, thus, speed. There is a catch, though, as teams that choose to put on softer tires for the final stage must start behind those teams that choose regular tires.
It’s a simple format, really – checkers or wreckers. Bring back the trophy or bring back the steering wheel.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about having a tire option for the All-Star Race this weekend at Charlotte.
“We’ll have a set in practice, and that will allow the team to adjust to the car according to that set, or find out that it’s not that much of an advantage. That’s something we’ll have to find out through practice. But that makes it that much more fun, going into a race where there’s a million bucks on the line, no points and the format is very crisp and clean this year. If these tires, if they’re soft and they go, I’ll run them all 70 laps.”
Talk about racing in the All-Star Race.
“There’s always something exciting about racing for $1 million. There’s a unique element about having that kind of money on the line in one night. It’s the prestige, it’s the intensity of it. I like coming onto pit road with no speed limit. I like that the pit crew is part of qualifying. The format itself is unique. It’s a fun environment for a novice fan to enjoy his or her first taste of NASCAR. It’s an even better environment for a longtime fan to see his or her favorite driver laying it all on the line for $1 million with no points at stake.”
What does it mean to you to be in the All-Star Race?
“It’s a who’s who of the Cup Series. It’s a big honor to be included in that race. Those are the winners, the top percent of our sport. To win that race in 2010 was a special moment. To beat the best of the best, and then to receive a check for $1 million, that’s a great feeling.”
Talk about winning the event in 2010. What do you remember about that race? And what would it mean to you to win another one?
“The weekend was perfect. The car unloaded fast. We had an excellent pit stop during our run. We won the pole and it seemed like, in the race, we were the ones dictating what everyone else had to do because of the pace we set. That all starts with the trends that you’ve learned in the beginning of the season. That’s what is different about the All-Star Race and The Clash in Daytona. At Daytona, you’re coming off the offseason, there’s the buildup and excitement for another season and seeing what you’ve got. The All-Star Race is taking what you’ve learned in the first part of the year, applying that and trying to cash in on a big payday.”