Kurt Busch will drive in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, hoping to win for a second consecutive week on NASCAR’s Cup circuit.
Then it will be off to the Middle East next week for what Busch describes as a working vacation.
Busch will travel to Baku, Azerbaijan, to watch Formula 1’s Grand Prix of Europe. He won’t be a casual fan during the off week in the Cup schedule: Gene Haas, Busch’s team co-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing, owns a Formula 1 team that is headquartered next door to SHR’s Kannapolis-based shop.
“I can’t wait to hang out with (Haas drivers Romain) Grosjean and (Esteban) Gutierrez and have the opportunity to sit next to a Formula 1 driver and see his tools that he uses,” Busch said. “Whether it’s simulation (or) mapping. I’m hoping that I can discover things that I’ll be able to ask Gene: ‘Hey Gene, why don’t we have that? Let’s bring that back over to the North Carolina side and use it for the Sprint Cup teams.’ ”
First, however, Busch hopes to make it two victories in a row Sunday at Michigan – on two fronts. Not only did he win last week’s race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, but he’s last June’s winner at Michigan, as well.
The Pocono victory, his first of the season, all-but assured Busch a spot in the postseason Chase. He was in good shape to qualify for the playoffs anyway, entering Pocono second in the standings. To that point, Busch had done just about everything but win, with seven consecutive top-10 finishes.
“But you have to stay patient,” said Busch, the 2004 Cup champion. “If we didn’t win last week, we’ve had such a strong season with consistency that there’s no reason to panic or to stress any type of part of the team because we hadn’t won. We had a three-race cushion on 16th in points. And so that was a cushion that I was trying to tell the guys, that’s important; because if we had any kind of mechanical failure, we’re not in any kind of jeopardy of not advancing to the Chase. But we just need to continue to push and to do smart things.”
After the Pocono victory, Busch said Haas congratulated him, but then, in a sarcastic tone, the owner added: “I want more. Where are more? Why do we only have one?”
The victory had a different vibe for Busch’s team members, those who were in Pocono and who routinely stay behind in North Carolina. Because the race was held Monday – delayed by one day because of rain – SHR employees were at work and could watch Busch win together. When he nursed his low-on-fuel No. 41 Chevy across the finish line, cheers went up throughout the building.
“Everybody was huddled up in the cafeteria watching the race on Monday as a unit, as a core group of people, rooting for their car out there,” Busch said. “Normally, people are at home watching on Sundays with their families and they’re not there together as employees watching the race unfold. And that was a special moment to hear everybody say the break room erupted, the cafeteria erupted with cheers. The guys in the transmission room, we didn’t even know they had a laptop back there to watch the race on. They had their own celebration. So it’s really neat to see the team enjoy it together on a Monday win.”
Among those back in North Carolina was crew chief Tony Gibson, who was suspended for the race for a lug-nut violation the previous week at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Busch finished sixth. Johnny Klausmeier, a team engineer, took Gibson’s place and is now one-for-one as a crew chief.
“It’s great to have Tony Gibson back and Johnny Klausmeier in his role as the lead engineer,” said Busch. “Not having our main crew chief (at Pocono), just shows the depth, the amount of quality effort that Stewart-Haas Racing is putting forth in building cars, but also in building people. And that’s what I was very proud of last week – to be able to win with an interim crew chief.”
Soon it will be off Azerbaijan to watch some F1 with his boss.
Said Busch: “I hope that there is something that I can bring back and cross-pollinate with our Sprint Cup team from the F1.”
It was only
a matter of time
Kurt Busch’s victory at Pocono last week was preceded by eight consecutive Top 10 finishes:
* All-Star race