Kurt Busch has been successful at road-course racing throughout his NASCAR career.
It started in 2000 as a young driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He finished second in the road-course race at Watkin Glen (N.Y.) International and 11th at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway. In his three NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen, he started first in each, won two (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 a road course.
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.
That means only Watkins Glen is left for Busch to score a road course victory in the Cup Series and he’s hoping the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion is up to the challenge. He has finished in the top-11 the last four years at The Glen, highlighted by a third-place drive in 2014.
Busch will have help from crew chief Tony Gibson, who was a car chief for Hendrick Motorsports and Jeff Gordon from 1999 until 2001. The team won both road-course races in 1999 (and the pole at Sonoma), won at Sonoma in 2000 and won at Watkins Glen in 2001.
Busch is hoping he can be a force on the road course as NASCAR’s summer stretch rolls on.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve won a 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 race distance would be shorter because the track is longer. And then the fans only get the 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.”
How is stage racing on the road course compared to the ovals?
“I think it all depends on the speed of your car and the position you’re running on the racetrack. With the guaranteed yellow at the end of the stages, if you’re running eighth, ninth or 10th, you’re almost in the worst spot because you want to stay out and gain those couple of bonus points for that stage. But if you’re running 11th and you have no chance of catching 10th, of course you’re going to pit before the yellow comes out. So you’ve got to pit two laps before and that way you forfeit your track position at the point, but you get your tires on and you’re looking to be in good position to leapfrog those top-10 guys who stayed out to gain those points. So it just depends how you’re running. I giggle a lot when we’re running 11th and the stage flag comes out, it’s like, wow, we’re the best-running car that got no points. I always think, man, what should we have done at that moment? But at a lot of the oval tracks you’re going to lose a lap when you pit (under green), where on the road courses you’re not going to lose a lap. And so it’s a different game, dramatically. If you’re in one of those top-three or four spots, yeah, you’re going to be aggressive to try and gain that stage win, yet you don’t want to end up with a flat tire or with damage that will hurt your chances for later in the race. You have to keep in mind that two-thirds of the points available in a race are when the checkered flag drops, not when a stage flag drops.”
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 next 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.”