WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — With only six races remaining before NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, Kurt Busch isn’t about to take a break. Not with one of the coveted 12 spots still within his grasp.
Less than 24 hours after a disappointing 14th-place finish at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, Busch was back behind the wheel of his black No. 78 Chevrolet on Monday, blistering through the tricky turns at Watkins Glen International and giving as much feedback as he could to crew chief Todd Berrier.
“I always like to test at tracks I’m not exceptionally good on and polish up on what might be a weak spot,” said Busch, the 2004 Cup champion and a Las Vegas native. “We chose to come and test here because we’re putting a heavy emphasis and putting all of our eggs into the basket of trying to get into the Chase. We’re trying to use this as a strength, come here and polish up and be even better.
“After Watkins Glen, it’s four to go, and we like our chances.”
Busch and his Furniture Row Racing team, his third team in three seasons, were among six cars to make the trek to upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region searching for some sort of edge for the Cup race here in two weeks. Though he’s been in contention on a regular basis all season, Busch is winless and sits 14th in points. He’s hopeful two days here on the track will translate into something big when the green flag waves for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen on Aug. 11.
“We just haven’t quite delivered on a win,” Busch said Monday. “Even if we had a win right now, what’s happening is everybody’s finding ways to win, so you have a grouping of guys that have that one win. It’s just as easy for us to make it in on overall consistency.”
The top 10 drivers in points automatically qualify for the 10-race Chase, and the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins earn wild-card spots. Overall points are the deciding factor if more than two drivers have one win each.
As the 26-race preseason winds down, there’s little wiggle room. Only 11 points separate Greg Biffle in eighth from 12th-place Martin Truex Jr. Busch is just 19 points behind Biffle and 13 behind 10th-place Jeff Gordon, who also is winless, while Tony Stewart and Truex each have a victory and hold the wild cards.
Busch has been fast all year in practice — he qualified sixth at Indy — but hasn’t found the complete package.
“It’s ruining us,” he said. “There’s a full package that you have to have in this game, and I see a weak spot for us. Once tracks rubber in, we don’t seem to have the front grip and the speed that we have in practice. It’s really odd to unload a lot of these weeks and be the fastest in practice and not have that same speed in the race. It’s a little frustrating, but we’re still in the mix.”
AJ Allmendinger, David Gilliland, Michael McDowell and Canadian road-race ace Ron Fellows also had their first taste of the Gen-6 cars on the high-speed curves of The Glen.
Getting any sort of edge for the second and final road course race of the season is paramount for underfunded teams.
“We can put a lot of focus on this race,” said Allmendinger, who again will drive the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing, one of a handful of races he’s running in an attempt for the single-car operation to get more feedback on its car and the overall program. “Right now, you look at guys that are trying to make the Chase and right on the outside looking in, every race for them obviously is big, especially right now the points are so close. But they can’t overemphasize one race. They’ve got to kind of look at one weekend and go to the next.
“For me, we can focus on this race, have two days of testing, go back and put a lot of emphasis on running well at this race, and I think we can. It’s a little bit different for everybody. At least with a small team like us, hopefully, it kind of makes the box a little bit smaller. I think it’ll help us a lot more than maybe a bigger team because they’ve got such resources.”
After Cup teams complained about negotiating right-hand turns on the other road course at Sonoma in June, NASCAR has changed the rules for The Glen. Teams will be allowed to hang the rear spoilers more to the left to alleviate the problem.