"Let's see now, it's in the low 80s and sunny every day this week out here and the forecast calls for showers and a cold front moving in back home, so you can probably understand while we came straight out here," Busch chuckled on Monday night from his Scottsdale hotel room. "I brought my clubs, so we'll get in a little golf and get rested up for this weekend's big race at PIR.
"We're really looking forward to Sunday's race, the final flat track race of the season," said Busch, who has won at least one Cup race for seven consecutive seasons. "We're bringing the same car that we raced at New Hampshire (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) back in September and we're hoping we can be that strong out here this weekend."
Busch and his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing No. 2 Team raced their "PRS-574" Miller Lite Dodge to a win in the rain-shortened June 29 Lenox Tools 300 at the flat 1.058-mile New Hampshire track. They came back for the Sept. 14 Sylvania 300 at NHMS armed with a "clone" of that car, their "PRS-576" Dodge Charger. After starting 20th, Busch quickly moved toward the front to be a top-10 fixture for the remainder of the race.
"The car was probably strong enough to finish a solid top-five for the majority of the race there at Loudon in September," Busch recalled of the only outing to date for this car. "The track got really ‘rubbered in' late in the race and we just got too tight. We made adjustments trying to free the car up a bit, but just not quite enough to run with the leaders and we had to settle for a sixth-place finish.
"We have all the data from the Loudon races, April's Phoenix race and last November's Phoenix race that we've already been studying very hard to come up with our baseline qualifying and race setups," said Busch, whose career Cup record on the "Desert Mile" boasts one win, two top-five finishes and five top-10s in 11 career starts. "We're hoping we can have similar flat-track success like we had in the two Loudon races this weekend at PIR."
While the picturesque one-mile oval holds the impressive Cup success for 2004 series champ Busch, it's his many personal memories that make PIR so special.
"The Phoenix track will always be special to me as long as I live," said Busch, a badge-carrying honorary deputy for noted colorful Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "Back when I was only 13, it was the first track that I ever saw the Cup guys run on in person. Growing up in Las Vegas and around racing like I did, it was one of the fondest memories of my life when my dad carried me down to Phoenix back in 1991. Seeing all the races for years on TV and finally getting to attend one in person made a huge impression on a 13-year-old kid, I can tell you that.
"It was at PIR where we wrapped up the 1999 NASCAR Southwest Tour Championship, too, and that will always be so memorable," Busch said. "After winning the title, we got our first big dose of media attention. I'll never forget that day and doing the first national TV interview of my career. Dick Berggren was the interviewer and I was pretty darned nervous, to tell you the truth. He did a lot to keep me calm before we went on the air and the interview went very well. I'll always remember that and be thankful to him for that.
"There are so many special memories associated with the Phoenix area and PIR that it's almost like a second hometown for me," concluded Busch. "We're hoping to add to the list of great memories out here this week."
Friday's practice from 12:00 Noon till 1:30 p.m. kicks off this weekend's action at Phoenix International Raceway. Qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday's battle is set for Friday at 3:45 p.m. local. Saturday's morning practice is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. and the final "happy hour" practice session is scheduled from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 (500 kilometers/312 miles/312 laps) has a scheduled 1:45 p.m. local starting time (Mountain Standard Time) here on this 1.0-mile speed plant known as the Desert Mile. ABC-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.
--Behind the scenes as the 2008 season winds down, Kurt and David Stremme, who'll drive the No. 12 Penske Dodge fulltime next season, are already becoming rock-solid teammates. "Stremme's a really cool guy and I enjoy being around him a lot, whether it's at the track testing or out at a restaurant having dinner and enjoying a few Miller Lites," Kurt said on Monday night. "He brings a lot to the table and our backgrounds are so similar. He grew up racing the late models on the short tracks and so did I. He's got a great seat-of-the-pants feel for the car, but he's also very analytical when it comes to spending time going over data with the engineers, the shock guys and his teammates. We've had a lot of fun already out on the road testing. It's amazing how we're able to get in each other's cars and then compare what we're feeling and what we think needs to be done to improve the cars. We're on the same page and communicate very well." Stremme, who finished 10th in a Rusty Wallace-owned car in last Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Texas, could be found only a matter of a few hours prior to that race over in Busch's No. 2 Cup team hauler. "Stremme's going to be a great teammate for Kurt, Sam (Hornish) and all of us," Pat said on Tuesday morning. "He had his race there on Saturday at Texas to be concerned with, but he chose to spend an hour or so over in the Cup garage with our team discussing the Texas chassis setup information and how our testing went at Nashville earlier in the week. We're really looking forward to having David as our fulltime teammate on the circuit next season."
--Kurt, Pat and crew will be racing their "PRS-576" Miller Lite Dodge this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. "We're bringing the same car that we raced at New Hampshire (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) back in September and we're hoping we can be that strong out here this weekend," Kurt said of the car he used to finished a strong sixth in the Sept. 14 Sylvania 300. "The car was probably strong enough to finish a solid top-five for the majority of the race there at Loudon in September. The track got really ‘rubbered in' late in the race and we just got too tight. We made adjustments trying to free the car up a bit, but just not quite enough to run with the leaders and we had to settle for a sixth-place finish."
--If you took a poll among the drivers in the Cup garage, chances are you'd find several who plan on post-season vacations to wind down - say like to some Caribbean destination. That's not the case with Kurt. Instead, the very next day after the Homestead finale, the 2004 champ heads to Texas to begin a 10-day, four-state hunting expedition. "I'm sure that folks might say I'm a little warped to be doing this," Kurt laughed as he explained the details of his trip. "Four or five guys loaded up in a camper and crossing the country hunting may not sound like fun to a lot of folks out there, but we've been planning this trip for months now and can't wait to get out there on the road. Getting out in the woods and back to nature is a great way to wind down; at least it really works for me." Kurt and his hunting posse have locations in Texas, Missouri, South Dakota and Minnesota on their schedule.
--While on the subject of David Stremme as the newest teammate and his quick acceptance internally at Penske Racing, members of the "2 crew" were still giving the Indiana native plenty of accolades on Saturday for his recent victory in the prestigious Winchester 400. "That's a hug