Kurt Busch - NASCAR Cup Series Preview Pocono

June 3, 2008

LONG POND, Pa. (June 3, 2008) - It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise when Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch recorded the fastest single lap time in last week's two days of testing at Pocono Raceway. After all, the 2004 series champ has enjoyed a special relationship with the unique triangular-shaped 2.5-mile track since the very beginning of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.

"Ever since I ran there back as a rookie in 2001 I have really liked the Pocono track," said Busch, whose lap of 169.456 mph (53.111 seconds) turned in during last Wednesday's final practice session topped the speed chart for the special Pocono testing. "It's a challenge that I always enjoy. Through the years, it seems like we always get a big boost every time we race there."

In 14 career starts at Pocono Raceway, Busch's record sports two wins and seven top-five finishes, including four second-place finishes. He has a 14.4 average start and, even with three career DNFs, he carries a 14.6 average finish on the tricky triangular layout heading into this weekend.

Busch enters Sunday's Pocono 500 looking for yet another shot in the arm. With 13 races down and another 13 races remaining to see who makes the 2008 "Chase for the NASCAR Championship," Busch is currently 21st in the point standings. He trails 12th-place Kasey Kahne by 229 points for "Chase Eligibility." Although he finished only 20th in last Sunday's Best Buy 400 at Dover, Del., Busch still managed to put a 33-point dent into the deficit.

If history has anything to do with it, Sunday's race at Pocono can serve up just what Busch is looking for.

For example, Busch was as far back as the 16th spot and 236 points out of 12th in the point standings entering an amazing summer run last season that led him back to "Chase eligibility." Pat Tryson came on board as crew chief late last June and the momentum began to build for Busch and his No. 2 Penske Racing Team.

Busch was on a competitive tear when the circuit hit Pocono for the most recent race there, last August's Pennsylvania 500. A rain delay during qualifying relegated him to having to start on the outside pole.

Busch, Tryson and crew recorded a record dominating win in that race. Busch took the lead from pole-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the first lap and went on to lead a record 175 of the 200 laps that comprise a 500-mile Pocono race. He lost the lead only during green-flag pit stop segments and after a slow pit stop with 60 laps remaining under the fifth yellow-flag period of the race.

The end result saw Busch use the Pocono victory to leap-frog over Earnhardt in the point standings to the 12th spot, the final position of "Chase eligibility." He would never look back during his quest to make the 2007 "Chase." Busch was up to 10th in the point standings when the "regular season" ended after the September 8 Richmond race and, after claiming two wins, was seeded fifth entering the 10-race battle to the 2007 championship title.

"Last year, Pocono was big for us when it came to the big picture, that's for sure," said Busch. "But, I have to look back through all the years we've raced there and consider it as one of my strongest tracks overall. We didn't make the Chase back in 2006, my first year with Penske Racing, but I have to point to the win we had that year at Bristol and the two runner-up finishes we had at Pocono as the season's top competitive highlights."

Busch started second and finished second in the June 2006 race and started seventh and again posted a runner-up finish in the July race that season. Busch led seven times for 31 laps in the June race and led once for three laps in the July race.

"The deal there in the 2006 Pocono races was that the 11 car (Denny Hamlin) really had something figured out," said Busch. "They were in a league of their own, just like we were there last August. We had the only car that could keep them in sight. Finishing second to a car that strong in those races was nothing to frown on.

"I think the long-term impact and benefit our team got out of those two races at Pocono in 2006 was tremendous," said Busch. "It reinforced our belief that we had the capabilities of running up front and challenging for wins. We knew that if we could consistently run like that, we could make the Chase and challenge for the points title. It helped lay the groundwork for what the 2007 season held for our team."

In only his fourth start at Pocono, Busch started 23rd but pulled out a second-place finish.

"That was the race where it started really late and it rained off and on all day long," Busch recalled. "It was a strange race. Steve Park had this huge crash on the first lap and it took more than an hour for them to fix the outside barrier. We led late in the race and then it got even stranger. Rain came and they red-flagged it for another two hours.

"We had climbed to fifth with about 60 laps to go and were running third with 50 laps remaining when the final caution came out," Busch recalled. "Just after that restart NASCAR told the teams that we'd be racing to Lap 175 instead of going 200 laps due to darkness setting in. We got up to second and were closing in on the leader (Bill Elliott) when the laps ran out. If we'd gone the distance that day, it could have been our first Pocono win way back then."

This weekend's Pocono 500 race weekend at Pocono Raceway gets under way on Friday with practice set from 12 noon until 1:30 p.m. Friday's single round of qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m. and will determine the entire 43-car starting field for Sunday's race. Saturday's schedule calls for practice from 10:00 a.m. till 10:50 a.m. and the final "Happy Hour" practice session from 11:20 a.m. till 12:20 p.m. Sunday's Pocono 500 (200 laps/500 miles) has a 2:00 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by TNT-TV and MRN Radio.

--Kurt, Pat and the Miller Lite Team are racing their PSC-550 Dodge Charger this weekend at Pocono.

"We had the 50 (PSC-550) and the 57 (PSC-557) cars there for the test last week," Pat explained. "The 50 car was the one that Kurt used to set fast time. It seemed to be a tick quicker and handled a little better, so it'll be our car for this weekend's race at Pocono." The PRS-550 Miller Lite Dodge Charger debuted at Darlington early last month where Busch started fifth and finished 12th. That was its only outing, other than the Pocono test, heading into this weekend's Pocono 500.

--After turning in the fastest lap in the two days of testing last week at Pocono Raceway, Kurt should be considered one of the favorites to take the pole in Friday's qualifying session. Still looking for his first career Pocono pole, Kurt has qualified on the outside front row for four races entering this weekend's return. "We've been unbelievably close to winning the pole at Pocono, that's for sure," Kurt said. "I have to look back at the last race there and say, ‘hey, that's one that really got away.' We blew everyone away in practice and ran a lap almost half a second faster on our qualifying run. But with only a handful of drivers remaining, the rains came and stopped the session for over an hour. When it resumed, the track was way much cooler and faster. We had ran a 52.98 (-second lap) and Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) just barely beat us with a 52.94 (-second lap). Then I'll never forget the first race of 2006 there. We were fast in practice and picked up about six tenths (of a second) from practice to qualifying. We're standing out there on pit road waiting for the last few guys to make their runs. Here comes Denny Hamlin, who wasn't even in the top 20 in practice. He went out and picked up more than a full second from his practice speed and knocked us off the pole."

--Kurt on last week's Pocono test: "Pocono is very tough because we don't have the transm