Kurt Busch returns to Fontana a year after losing lead on the last lap … again


Kurt Busch‘s sixth career Sprint Cup win came at Auto Club Speedway in 2003, back in his third full-time season in the series and with Roush Fenway Racing.

Thirteen years and 19 starts later, Busch has yet to revisit victory lane at the 2-mile track while earning a career-best five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and three apiece at Michigan International Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Despite that, Busch’s best average finish among tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, with the exception of Kentucky Speedway, is in Fontana at 11.5. His next best average is 13.2 at Phoenix.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has recorded seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway. He returns to the track fourth in the point standings after four races.

“What I like most about Fontana is the fast layout and flat corners,” Busch said of the track with 14-degree banking in a news release. “It’s got a wide groove, meaning you can race around the bottom, middle or top of the racetrack. You can go several cars wide down the straightaways and into the corners.”

The 2015 race at Auto Club Speedway was the closest Busch has come to a win in Fontana since 2003. In just his second weekend back from a three-race suspension, Busch earned the pole and led 65 laps, including six of the last seven. But the lap that was missing was the final one.

Brad Keselowski, who hadn’t led before the white flag, passed Busch the last time through Turns 1 and 2. Still in pursuit, Busch got loose out of Turn 4 and scraped the wall, leading to a third-place finish.

It was the second year in a row Busch lost the lead at Fontana on the last lap.

Busch would have to wait until the series visited Richmond International Raceway four weeks later to earn a win.

Entering the fifth week of the 2016 season, Busch is in limited company. The driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet is one of three drivers, including brother Kyle Busch and teammate Kevin Harvick, who have finished every race in the top 10.

Busch completed the Daytona 500 in 10th and left Atlanta with a fourth-place finish before earning results of ninth and sixth at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Despite not having a win, Busch’s team hasn’t been fazed by the new low-downforce package after three races and two poles (at Atlanta and Las Vegas).

Busch is looking forward to returning to Fontana but does have concerns about how his car will handle.

“I’m a bit apprehensive about how far the (tire) drop-off will be and how the cars will handle at the beginning of the run versus at the end of the run,” Busch said. “We’ll have to see how many sets of tires Goodyear wants to give us. If they want to give us 30 sets, we’ll use all 30. If they only give us 14 sets, we’re going to be right on the edge of making it through the full distance with those sets of tires.”

Goodyear has announced teams will be given five sets for practice and qualifying and 12 for the race itself.

“If you have five laps on a set, you’re going to pit,” Busch said. “If you don’t, and it goes on an extended green-flag run, you’re going to be in big trouble.”

And if he gets into trouble, Busch will have to wait another year to win again at his best track.