Busch Looks Forward To The Challenge of Talladega
October 27, 2009
Such is certainly not the case with Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch. While others absolutely are not looking forward to the white-knuckled three and four-wide and 10 rows deep battle around Talladega's mammoth 2.66-mile layout, Busch simply can't wait for this weekend's race.
"I've been saying all along that last weekend's race at Martinsville and this week's race at Talladega were the two big wild card races among the final 10 Chase events," said Busch, who finished 17th at Martinsville on Sunday and now trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 240 points. "We took a hit in the points at Martinsville last weekend and lost more ground to the leader, but we know from experience that it could have been much worse. We knew that the 48 car (Johnson), Mark (Martin), the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) were all going to be good there and they were.
"But we all recognize that anything can happen at Talladega this weekend," said Busch, whose 12.1 career average finish at Talladega (in 17 races) is by far the best among the 12 drivers battling it out in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. "We're coming in there realistically more than a full race behind the leaders, but things happen so fast and the points situation could really get shaken up at the end of Sunday's race."
So, what is it about the 2004 Sprint Cup champ's penchant for this wild style of racing?
"It's just a brand of racing that I really took to from my very first race at Talladega," said Busch, who finished third in his first visit to the Alabama track, the largest track on the Sprint Cup tour. "It can get really wild and it's as nerve-wracking experience as there could ever be, but I've really grown to enjoy the challenge that these races present.
"I've always looked at it as a huge strategic exercise that puts a premium on so many of your senses," offered Busch, whose Talladega record sports six top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes in 17 career races. "Of course, you have to have a fairly strong race car to begin with. But the key has always been to avoid the wrecks and be there in the thick of things when the laps are winding down. The way the drafting works, you don't always have to have the strongest car out there in order to win.
"I don't know what driver first called it a high-speed chess match, but that's a pretty good analogy and I've always thought of the competition that way," said Busch. "It's like you come down to the finish looking to be among the lead pack. Then it comes down to making your strategic moves out there while at the same time anticipating the next moves of all the guys around you.
"It often gets really hairy out there and you're forced to really hang it all out on the line," said Busch. "But the way I've always looked at it is what we do every race is certainly not for the weak at heart. These races just always seem to bump it up a notch or two on the stress meter - for the drivers, team members and especially the fans.
"The fans love it," said Busch, "and to tell you the truth, I do, too. But, first and foremost, I've grown to really respect it. It's not a fear thing for me at all, but I am aware of the great chances for huge crashes to occur. I know it's hard for most people to understand, but the more I'm right in the middle of the lead pack, the more comfortable I am in the car. I feel like I learn something each time I'm in that position, especially how to survive it and get a good finish out of it.
"So that's the strategy for our Miller Lite Dodge team as we head back to Talladega for another dose of restrictor-plate racing," said Busch, currently sixth in the Sprint Cup point standings. "If we can avoid all the mayhem that you can always expect in races there, it's an opportunity to possibly grab us a win or at least a good finish and use it to help toward closing that gap with the Chase leaders."
Perhaps Miller Lite Dodge crew chief Pat Tryson says it best about Busch's career in restrictor-plate racing: "The fact that Kurt is still looking for the first plate-race win of his career would have to rate as our sport's biggest mystery, that's for sure. I've always thought of Kurt as one of the top-five best ‘plate racers' out there and I think if you polled all the guys in the garage these days, the big majority of the folks would agree to that. Kurt has been so close to winning and it's quite incredible that he's gone this long without taking a checkered flag at one of those races. Really, just look at his record. How many runner-up finishes does he have? How many top-fives and top-10s? They always say that the law of averages has to sooner or later work in a guy's favor. When you look at Kurt's career record in those races, it certainly leaves you scratching your head. It's really mind-boggling."
This weekend's schedule at Talladega Superspeedway begins on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 1:00 p.m. till 2:15 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. till 4:00 p.m. Saturday's 11:15 a.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday's 43-car starting field, with all cars impounded immediately after the session. Sunday's AMP Energy 500 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 12:00 noon CT (1:00 p.m. ET) starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.