Commentary

Kurt Busch Striving for Consistency in Road Course Wild Card

By Cole Cusumano

 

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series will be making its second stop at Daytona International Speedway, but this time for the highly anticipated inaugural road course event. The opportunity presented itself after Watkins Glen International revealed it would withdraw from the schedule due to COVID-19. 

 

The event itself is going to be one massive enigma with countless factors that no one can expect, as the first laps being turned at the famed venue will come at the drop of the green flag. Throughout the 39-car field, only seven drivers have tackled the 14-turn perplexity, and one of those is Kurt Busch.

 

The elder Busch brother has competed at the winding course on two occasions in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, where he posted a career-best podium finish of third in 2008 driving for Roger Penske. To put in perspective how impressive this feat is, the only other active driver to best that placing was Jimmie Johnson, who replicated two runner-up finishes; Michael McDowell matched the tertiary result in 2012.

 

Looking at the broad scope of Busch’s career, his highest average finish among various track configurations is 14.6 at road courses. While only one win to his name at Sonoma Raceway, he’s notched 21 top-10s, which includes 11 top-fives. 

 

The Las Vegas-native attributed his success on the winding tracks to advice given to him in 1997 by his team owner while racing his way through the ranks in the NASCAR Southwest Series before taking his first start at Sonoma — “try to stay on the asphalt and you’ll be okay.”

 

While the 2004 Champion has raced the Rolex 24 at the 3.56-mile track with success, he understands stock cars handle vastly different and he considers this the ultimate wild card event.

 

Pit strategy, rain, tire conservation and points racing are all things the No. 1 team are taking into account once the field dives off into the unknowns of Turn 1 in the Go Bowling 235. Although almost impossible to limit the overwhelming nature of these factors without being locked into a Playoff spot with four races remaining, the 42-year-old is keeping things simple.

 

“It’s going to be pretty wild,” Busch said. “Just driving a little bit on iRacing and the simulator with Chevrolet, having a mindset of driving the car at 80-percent pace has seemed to have provided the most stability in laps times and in as far as tire wear and just finding a rhythm. That’s the key thing. You have to find a rhythm and we’re all going to be doing it as they drop the green flag and as there are 39 other cars around us.”

 

Ironically, this theme of rhythm has been the standard for Busch all season in terms of relying on consistency for success. Yes, the Team Chevy driver isn’t guaranteed a spot in postseason, but the 14 top-10s he’s amassed have him at a 111-point advantage over the cutoff heading into the question-riddled race.

 

Calling his 20th season something he never would have expected, Busch believes the determinants are a combination of two things; no practice — as discussed with his younger brother, Kyle, in their family bubble — and his new leadership role.

 

“It’s just been about consistency this year,” Busch confirmed. “Even just being that leader at Ganassi right now with Kyle Larson’s incident earlier this year and trying to get Matt Kenseth up to speed, and just trying to be that stable ground. It’s been a challenge for me to do that; I enjoy it.”

 

With so much uncertainty swirling around the possibilities of the inaugural event, one thing you can probably count on is a quality day from Busch and the No. 1 team. Coming off back-to-back top-10s and entering the contest with experience on his side, in addition to an impressive road course resume, don’t be surprised if you see that car number matching the finishing position.

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