Busch Tries to Avoid Being "Caught in the Middle" at Pocono

July 28, 2009

LONG POND, Pa. (July 28, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says his team is "caught up in the middle" entering this weekend's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, but that's not necessarily a bad position to be in as far as the big picture goes along the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour.

"You have the couple of guys up front in the point standings with such a huge lead with six races remaining till the Chase kicks in who can already go all-out in trying to win races," said Busch, currently fourth in the point standings and 247 points ahead of 13th-place David Reutimann. "Then you have the guys from about 20th on back who have already written off their chances of making the Chase this season. They're already in the going-all-out, full-speed-ahead mode, doing everything possible trying to win a race. All the guys on both sides of the equation really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing whatever it takes to come home with a win at the end of the day.

"Our Miller Lite/Penske Dodge Team is sort of caught up in the middle heading into Pocono this weekend," said Busch, whose career Pocono record boasts two wins and seven top-five finishes in 17 races. "A lot of things can happen in these next six races leading into the Chase. Unlike those guys at the top of standings (points leader Tony Stewart has a 693-point "cushion" over 13th, while second-place Jimmie Johnson has a 501-point lead and third-place Jeff Gordon enjoys a 486-point advantage), we can't afford to throw caution to the wind just yet and we have to be in a conservative mode definitely for the next couple of races.

"We have Pocono this weekend and we saw from what happened in the first race there this year how things can happen that are out of your control that can bite you in the points," said Busch. "Then we head up to Watkins Glen for the final road course race of the year. Based of what happened last month out at Sonoma (Infineon Raceway), you almost have to look at the Glen as a wild card race."

In the last race at Pocono, the June 7 Pocono 500, Busch started fourth and had a car very capable of posting a top-10 finish. But after leading laps, Busch's Dodge fell off the pace and was relegated to the garage to address a water pump problem. The Pat Tryson-led crew repaired the car and sent their driver back into action, but Busch could only get a 37th-place finish out of the day. It was Busch's worst finish to date for the season. In just that single race, Busch's advantage over 13th position in the points at the time dropped from 226 points to 141 points.

In the June 21 race on Infineon's winding road course, Busch battled from a 27th-place start to be a fixture among the top five drivers until the final laps of the race. While running fourth with 20 laps remaining, a run-in with Jimmie Johnson sent him spinning into the inside tire barrier. Busch managed to blast from 38th all the way up through the pack to finish 15th when the laps ran out and avoided another disastrous points day.

"When we get through with Pocono this weekend and hopefully survive what could be a disastrous day for many teams at Watkins Glen, then hopefully we can really go after some more wins during the final four races leading into the Chase," said Busch. "We won at Atlanta and had some strong finishes at Michigan and Richmond earlier this year. We're definitely planning on having our short-track program much better when we get back to Bristol. Those will be the final races leading into the Chase.

"What we're hoping to do is have a big enough points buffer built on 13th after Watkins Glen that we can really go after the wins - and the important bonus points for the Chase - in those four races," said Busch. "It would be a great position to be in, using fuel mileage and pit strategy - whatever it takes -- in going after wins and bonus points."

Busch looks to avenge himself from his first trip to Pocono this season and the resulting 37th-place finish. History is certainly in the 2004 series champ's corner. Both of his wins and five of his seven top-five finishes have come in the second race of the season at Pocono.

This weekend's Pocono Raceway action gets under way on Friday with practice set from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Friday at 3:40 p.m. (live on ESPN2 & MRN Radio). Saturday's schedule calls for practice from 10:00 a.m. till 10:45 a.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 11:20 a.m. till 12:20 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 (200 laps, 500 miles) on the "Tricky Triangle" is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 2:15 p.m. Race No. 21 of 36 points-paying events on the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.