Busch Hopes for More Flat-Track success at Phoenix
November 10, 2010AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 9, 2010) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says he takes a trip down memory lane every time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway. That's easily understood as there is no other racing facility that compares to PIR when it comes to touching the sentimental side of the 2004 series champ and 22-race winner at stock car racing's highest level.
"We're heading back to Phoenix looking for more success, that's for sure," offered Busch, currently 11th in the Cup point standings and 110 points out of fifth with only the Phoenix and Homestead races remaining on the 2010 schedule. "We need a strong run to help us get all we can out of the Chase for this season and help strengthen our flat-track program as we look to the future.
"Phoenix will always be a special track for me and it's almost like a homecoming each and every time we race there," said Busch. "So much has changed at the track through the years, with them building the tunnel into the infield and adding all those thousands of seats. But it's still the same old PIR as for it being the demanding one-mile flat track that I love racing on and the same old PIR that holds so many special memories for me personally.
"When I think back to all those many years ago when my dad carried me to PIR to see my first-ever live Cup race - my first time ever to watch the big boys race - it always brings a smile to my face," said Busch of his first visit to PIR for the 1991 Pyroil 500, the fourth Cup race held on the "Desert Mile." "When I think back to running on all the short tracks like we did and winning the old NASCAR Southwest Tour championship at Phoenix, it's a flattering feeling."
Busch recently recalled the specifics regarding his first-ever visit to PIR. "I was 13 years old and it was such a really big deal when my dad carried me to see my very first big NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix," he said of his PIR pilgrimage to the race on Nov. 3, 1991. "Growing up in racing like I did and having my parents take me to the short tracks when I was just a toddler really helped put racing in my blood so early in life.
"Watching all the big races on TV back then just added to the desire to get to see one live," Busch said. "NASCAR added a new date at Phoenix for the Cup cars on the schedule back in 1988. It automatically became the big hot ticket event for all the racers out West. Growing up in (Las) Vegas like we did and without the big track there not getting a Cup date until 1998, Phoenix was where it was at back then. They came in there and made it such a tremendous racing weekend. Not only did they have all the big guys - the Cup teams - racing there, they ran the final race of the NASCAR Southwest Tour there, too.
"My dad didn't get to go to that first race back in '88, but he went to the races in '89 and '90," Busch said. "Then in 1991, he told me pretty far in advance that he was taking me to the Phoenix Cup race that November. It was like a kid anticipating Christmas for me back then. I just couldn't wait. We got to go down into the pits before the race and I thought that was so cool. When they fired up the engines for the race, it was something like I'd never heard or seen before.
"My mom and dad have kept a picture of me there at the race and when I look back at it now, it's really neat," Busch said. (Image is attached) "There I am, way back then as a skinny little kid, standing in front of Rusty's (Wallace) pit area before the start of the race and posing in front of the Miller Genuine Draft pit box. My dad was a Mac Tools dealer and they sponsored Dale Earnhardt. We had our Mac Tools/Dale Earnhardt tee-shirts on and were having more fun than we'd ever had. We're standing there holding up Rusty's No. 2 pit sign. That's pretty cool to think about that day way back then and see how far we've been able to come."
Busch had mathematically clinched the 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series points title prior to the season finale at Phoenix on Nov. 5, 1999, but it wasn't official until that race concluded. "We had won four straight races and were looking for the fifth straight win in the final race of the year at Phoenix," Busch recalled. "Unfortunately, we got caught up in a crash during the race and finished way back in the field. The good thing, though, is that we had such a big lead in the points that we still won the championship by over 300 points.
"One of the major things I'll always remember from that race was when the dust had settled and we got all the media attention for winning the championship," said Busch. "It was the first big national TV interview I did. 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."
Much has happened to Busch in the 11 years since the early chapters of his racing career led to significant role in big-league NASCAR Sprint Cup racing history. He is certainly one of the "big boys' of the sport now. There's the one win, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 15 PIR Cup races. Then, there's the 2004 Cup championship with a total of 22 wins, 80 top-fives and 152 top-10s overall on the Sprint Cup tour as Busch heads into his career's 363rd start this weekend at PIR.
"Like I said, it's a very flattering feeling and I still have to stop and pinch myself sometimes." said Busch, a badge-carrying honorary deputy for noted colorful Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "The Phoenix track will always be special to me for as long as I live."
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 Kobalt Tools 500 (500 kilometers/312 miles/312 laps) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. local starting time (Mountain Standard Time) here on this 1.0-mile speed plant known as the Desert Mile. ESPN-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.
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