Momentum to be Key for Kurt Busch, Smith at Texas Motor Speedway
Regaining and sustaining momentum were the respective themes for NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kurt Busch and Regan Smith during their visit to Kentucky Speedway today.
Smith, in his first full series season in the No. 01 Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Chevrolet, entered midweek looking to sustain momentum from his series career-best 14th-place NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finish at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday while Busch is looking to regain momentum after being derailed with a 33rd place Martinsville showing.
Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, opened the 2008 season by posting a dramatic second-place finish in the Daytona 500. He climbed from the 43rd starting position to help his Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman to a win.
That effort marked his lone top-five and top-10 series finish to date. Busch raced competitively and was close to cracking the race top 10 at California Speedway, where he took a 13th-place finish, Atlanta Motor Speedway where he placed 11th and Bristol Motor Speedway where he crossed the finish line 12th.
He arrived at Martinsville holding down the 10th position in the series standings, but slipped to 16th after his No. 2 car was involved in an incident on Lap 215 of 500. The results from that setback forced him to finish seven laps down to eventual race winner Denny Hamlin.
His race luck didn't improve at Kentucky Speedway today, where effects of a snow- and rain-filled month of March delayed his planned test activity.
Still, an upbeat Busch remains just 71 points away from a spot in the top 12 in the series standings and is optimistic about his chances to challenge for his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
"It's been an interesting season with the new car. Every track that you go to, it seems like it's your first time there because the new car is so different. Daytona was really good for Penske Racing. Our No. 2 team was very close to winning and it felt great to push a teammate across the line.
"Really, the season starts after that. At California, Vegas, Atlanta we were knocking on the door to a top 10, but in each race we had a small quirk pop up that was tough to overcome. It was speeding on pit road at California and at Vegas we had a tire blow out. In Atlanta, we missed the set up early on, but we worked and worked and worked and came home 11th. Those days are what make championship-type seasons come together.
"Short tracks have been my forte' normally, but we've struggled a little bit with the new car trying to get it to turn. We're at Kentucky hoping to be able to prepare for Texas and some of the upcoming mile-and-a-half tracks. Then, we'll go back to a short track in the Carolinas somewhere to try to get our short track program a little better. It's a new car, we've been working the bugs out, I think we have them cleared and we're trying to advance."
Based on past results, Texas Motor Speedway could be an ideal place for Busch to advance his No. 2 program. He finished 11th in the 2007 April race at the track and followed up with an eighth-place showing in November. Overall, he owns six top-10 finishes at Texas through eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.
"Texas is interesting. That place is fast and you have to stay out of trouble. At the end, the pace just picks up and it's incredible how fast you get going. If you've protected your car throughout the day and had good pit stops, you're going to be there at the end. That track has been good to me, so I hope we can pick up a solid finish," Bush said.
The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion finished seventh in the series standings last year with two wins, six top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.
Smith will roll into his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Texas Motor Speedway 34th in the series standings after picking up five positions last week.
"Martinsville was real good. It was good run for all our guys and they had something they could hold their heads high about when they got to the shop on Monday. We've struggled this year. We've had ups and downs and a lot more downs than ups to this point.
"We were happy to get back locked in on the points and to have a run where we were competitive. There were times at Martinsville when we felt we were better than a 14th-place car, but the way our year's been. We'll take what we can get and go from there," Smith said.
The 24-year-old driver from Cato, N.Y., is in his first full-time series season and is averaging a 30th-place finish through six series events. He appeared in seven series races in 2007 and earned a season-best 24th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in April.
"Last year I had seven starts. I was scheduled to have 12, but all the (Ginn Racing-DEI) merger stuff took place and we saved my rookie status for this year. To know you're going to be in the car every week and you're going to have 36 opportunities to showcase your talent to try to get wins, top-fives and top-10s makes a big difference because you're not just going out there every couple weeks try to get as good of a finish as you can."
He is eager to make race his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series machine at Texas for the first time.
"Texas is one of my favorite tracks. I've always had good luck and good cars there. I'm excited to go there, but there's going to be a few unknowns. Nobody knows what tire compound we're going to have there and we'll need to feel that out at the beginning to see what we've got.
"It's a fast racetrack, you definitely have to be on your toes all the time, but it's a fun track. If you're smart about it, you can put on some of the best racing of anywhere we go. I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Smith added that he hoped to gain some knowledge during his planned Kentucky Speedway test. "If we get out today, I'd say by the looks of the number of cars in the garage area that there's something we can pick up. The secret must be out. There's a lot of stuff on the mile-and-a-halves that transfers back and forth. We don't race the Cup cars at Kentucky, so it's a perfect place for us to come to shake the car down and try anything we're thinking about doing this weekend at Texas."
Story by Mike Schmaltz
~ Kentucky Speedway ~