Kurt Busch entered Pocono Raceway determined to win at the Tricky Triangle for the first time since 2007.
Things are a lot different for the 2004 Cup Series champion since that August day. Busch is no longer driving the Blue Deuce. Instead, he’s walking around with his head held high, showcasing the gradient black and red colors of his No. 41 Chevrolet.
Rather than dominating the day like Busch did in 2007, leading 175 of 200 laps, he was strategic in his approach to Victory Lane. He showed patience, like he has throughout 2016, not getting frustrated on the radio or overdriving his racecar.
Saving just enough fuel to the end of the Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400, Busch piloting his car into the winner’s circle for the first time at a track known for being different, just like Busch himself.
Leading 32 laps en route to his triumph, Busch is locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, joining Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick on the Chase Grid 14 races into the season. With a secure job and sponsorship for the foreseeable future, he breathed easily heading into his post-race press conference, speaking to the media as the victor for the first time since winning at Michigan, 35 races ago.
But unlike the rest of the season, Busch had a new face on top of the pit box at Pocono.
Crew chief Tony Gibson was suspended for a lug nut violation following the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Taking the reins on the No. 41 team was engineer Johnny Klausmeier, who stepped up to the plate at Bristol Motor Speedway in April, with Gibson stuck in his motorhome with kidney stones.
“His voice was way more calming than Gibson,” Busch said. “When you have an engineer calculating your fuel, I mean, it’s a calculator. I know Gibson can do it just the same, but when you have a new guy or somebody different and you’re not at your full strength, there’s something that happens to everybody on the team. Everybody pulls harder. Everybody digs in a little bit deeper, and not having Tony Gibson here today, I know everybody gave that much more, and this is a win for Gibson.”
The calm within Busch is something rather new, making this year unique for the No. 41 team.
Heading into Pocono Raceway, Busch led NASCAR’s premier division with 11 top 10s in 13 races. Evidently, that amount has increased to 12 top 10s in 14 events. As one of NASCAR’s most consistent drivers this season, he is the only competitor to finish on the lead lap in every race this year, running every one of the 4,464 laps.
Busch’s victory is the 28th of his Sprint Cup Series career. Since joining SHR, he now has visited Victory Lane four times, and is currently on pace to excel his career high of 21 top 10s in a season (2004, 2009 and 2015).
With 28 visits to Victory Lane, Busch is tied with Rex White for 25th on the all-time wins list. Next up on the list? 1999 Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett’s mark of 32 victories, with which Harvick is currently tied.
“It’s something that you don’t think about, but it’s nice to have the acknowledgment to be in an elite group,” Busch said. “But it takes an elite team and an effort that you have to have as a driver in this day and age to be in position to win, and so far this year on the Haas Automation Monster Energy Chevy team, we’ve been on one side of the yellow or one side of the restart at the end of a bunch of races, and it sits there and it wears on you a little bit, but then you’ve got to focus.
“Focus, focus, focus, and allow the races to unfold. The more often that you’re in position to win, the more chances at winning you’re going to have, and throughout my career, I’ve always enjoy racing here at Pocono. It’s a fun racetrack. It’s a different racetrack. It has road course rhythm. It has oval characteristics, but then it challenges engine builds. It challenges new setups because we race here in June and then we come back here quickly at the end of July, and then we don’t come back again for another 10 months, and technology changes so quickly.”
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