TALLADEGA, Ala. (October 18, 2011) - Sunday's Good Sam RV Parks & Resorts 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will be Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch's 44th career NASCAR points-paying restrictor-plate race and he is still looking for his first victory in this thrilling brand of competition.
"People look back at the great Speed Weeks 2011 we had in Daytona back in February and they say, ‘but he did win - I saw that No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge in Victory Lane every time I turned on the TV it seemed like,'" said Busch, currently seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase points race and 27 points out of first with five races remaining to determine this year's series champion. "We did take our "Double Deuce" Dodge to Victory Lane at Daytona - on two occasions to be exact, but neither time was a points race win.
"We just had a helluva Speed Weeks, that's for sure," said Busch. "We won the Budweiser Shootout and then came back and won our qualifying race the following Thursday. We had such a strong car in the Daytona 500 and that was so disappointing to be so close to winning it and having to settle for a fifth-place finish like we did.
"So here we are heading back into Talladega for the final plate race of the season and, yes, we are still after that first points-paying plate race win," said Busch. "With the new rules package for this weekend, we're all coming back in there not really knowing what to expect. No matter how it works out, though, the strategy is always the same in the Talladega races. You always have to strive to survive and be there at the end."
Busch's career record on the circuit's longest track - the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway - offers substance to have everyone scratching their heads wondering how the 2004 series champ could still be winless there. In the 21 races entering Sunday's battle there, Busch has six top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. He finished a strong third in his first race there back in April 2001. Busch has a 20.1 average start and a 13.9 average finish at Talladega, extremely impressive considering he has three DNFs.
In 43 total restrictor-plate races entering this weekend's Talladega battle, Busch may still be looking for his first victory, but he has recorded 16 top-five finishes, including three seconds and six thirds. He has 25 top-10 finishes. His record boasts a 20.2 average start and 15.1 average finish, even with five career DNFs in his restrictor-plate racing.
"It certainly is one of our sport's biggest mysteries as to how Kurt has not yet won a points race in restrictor-plate competition," offered crew chief Steve Addington, who will be atop Busch's pit box on Sunday, calling the shots for the 68th consecutive race. "You could take a poll in the garage area and the consensus would be that Kurt is definitely among the top-five best plate racers out there. All the racing insiders are just plain baffled that he hasn't added one of those wins to his career total yet.
"When you look back on our season, we've had quite a successful year on so many different tracks," said Addington. "We started out with the great runs in Daytona, we won on the road course out at Sonoma (Infinion Raceway) and we even one on a high-banked one-mile track (Dover). So, it has been like our most successful days have been on tracks where we haven't won on before.
"We just have the feeling like this is Kurt's week to get the win at Talladega," Addington said.
NASCAR officials recently announced two rule changes for this weekend's Good Sam 500. The size of the restrictor plate that teams will use to prepare and practice for the race will increase by 1/64 inch and is now going to be 57/64 inch diameter. This will provide the teams with an additional 7-10 horsepower. Additionally, the pressure relief valve on the cars' cooling system will be recalibrated to reduce the pressure by approximately eight pounds per square inch from last April's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega.
"The hope is that it will give us a little more throttle to use," said Busch. "I've seen estimates that it should give us maybe from seven to 10 additional horsepower. But the feeling is that the change in the pressure valve will see us limited as to how many laps we can push each other before needing to swap positions.
"The bottom line is that we really won't know how it will affect the racing until we get there," said Busch. "The answers will unfold when we get out there in Friday's drafting practice."
Busch participated in a recent press conference at Kansas Speedway where Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch announced a $100,000 bonus to the driver leading the most times if there are more than 100 lead changes in this Sunday's race.
"I told Grant that we'll definitely be aiming at taking his bonus money," said Busch. "Talladega has the record for most lead changes in a race as we've had 88 changes in the last two spring races there. With the new rules in place for this race, it could help produce 100 or more lead changes. I'm sure that the TV guys will be all on top of that. We'll be doing everything we can to win that extra 100 grand."
This weekend's schedule at Talladega Superspeedway begins on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 1:30 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. Sunday's Good Sam Club 500 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 1:00 p.m. CT (2:00 p.m. ET) starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.