Kurt Busch: One Win Away From First Official Plate Win and Daytona HistoryBy Kelly Crandall
Kurt Busch has officially become the favorite for Speedweeks 2011 at Daytona.
After entering the new season with a new number and sponsor, the Las Vegas native found a new attitude in approach to the restrictor plate tracks. After going years of never finding his way to victory lane at Daytona or Talladega, he’s now two for two.
Heading into Sunday’s 53rd annual Daytona 500, Busch will be looking to continue winning what he’s never won before. Three times he’s finished second in the Great American Race and had to wait until next year as they say.
In 2003 a rain shortened race placed him behind winner Michael Waltrip. In 2005 he made a mad dash to second in the final lap but couldn’t get by eventual winner Jeff Gordon. And in 2008 he pushed former teammate Ryan Newman to his first win.
Now Busch is the man of the restrictor plate race.
“It’s the Double Deuce power right now,” said Busch. “It’s been a great ride through this Speedweeks, just being in the right place at the right time.”
Busch was quick to credit his team in saying that they have brought great race cars to Daytona.
“We are going to ride this wave,” he said. “We’ve made the right changes so far with all of our adjustments on our car, with all the rule changes with different restrictor plate sizes, different grill opening sizes. But this is a new era in Daytona in my mind and right now I feel like I don’t know anything about the draft. I’m just trying latch on to somebody to learn it with.”
Busch then couldn’t hide the smile when saying, “For us we’re going to keep rolling with this Double Deuce. It’s bright, it’s yellow and it’s fast.”
It’s not a long shot to pick Busch to win the Daytona 500 or at least be in contention; along with his numerous second place finishes he has nine top fives and 11 top 10s in 19 starts at Daytona. This year though, he’s just found a little more with his Penske Dodge that has brought him closer to his first official restrictor plate win.
First official restrictor plate win in the biggest race of the year.
Should he accomplish the feat, Busch will become the sixth driver to pull off the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 double. It’s only happened four other times by five drivers: 1982 – Bobby Allison, 1987 – Bill Elliott, 1997 – Jeff Gordon and 1996 and 2000 for Dale Jarrett.
“Yeah, I would say we’re hard pressed not to be the favorite,” said Busch. “The Shell/Pennzoil is out front right now and guys are going to be gunning for it. We’ve won the Shootout, we won the pole – or the starting position anyhow (in the Daytona 500) and we won our Duel today. I don’t like the favorite role, I like to be more of an underdog but when you’re dubbed the favorite you just try to block out all the outside emotions about what the day is going to be like on Sunday and focus on what’s important.”
Busch said he will lean on his crew chief and other team members to keep him focused.
Good luck with that because there’s more to it.
Busch could also become the first driver in the history of NASCAR to pull of the three-peat: win everything he was entered in during Speedweeks. Drivers have come close in the past, most recently Dale Earnhardt Jr. who won the Shootout and his Duel race in 2003 before having trouble in the 500.
Of course if Busch were entered in either Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series or Saturday’s Nationwide Series openers, he would try to become the first man to sweep all of Speedweeks. But for now, he’s quite comfortable worrying about his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger team and what they’re trying to accomplish.
He’s come a long way and says that it’s taken a while to find the right drafting partners, especially after finishing second in the 2003 Daytona 500. For many years before that he was frustrated, because no one would latch onto him. Now he has friendships and people will to let him to the pushee instead of the pusher.
Saturday he was pushed by good friend Jamie McMurray and Regan Smith pushed him on Thursday. For both drivers, Busch says, he hopes good things come back around to them.
It’s already been a crazy start to the 2011 NASCAR season. But maybe none more so then for the 2004 Sprint Cup champion.
He went from being the man that was always around but not being able to break through in the plate races, to being unstoppable in Speedweeks.
“This is a great Speedweeks for me, it’s not over,” said Busch.
“We’ve got a big race on Sunday but the fact that driving a new car with a new car number it just feels like it’s a whole fresh new opportunity to start over with something new.”