Kurt Busch described the first day of NASCAR’s organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the “first day at school” for the 2018 Cup season.
“You have a new group of guys and then there’s the same tendencies that come back into play like tire wear, engine temp,” Busch said Wednesday during a break in the test. “We’re working on pit road speed, which is a new way of doing things on our car. There’s the newness feeling that you’re working through, but it’s exciting.”
But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver doesn’t want his No. 41 team to fall into the trap of buying into any hype from the two-day test.
Because the next time the Cup Series arrives at the 1.5-mile track, it’ll be under different circumstances.
“I’m hopeful that we learn all the right things and we don’t jade ourselves in a direction that happens a lot in test sessions,” Busch. “A lot of times test sessions are cooler temperatures than when we race and track grip level is higher than when we race and you can easily get askew from what the real race day setup numbers are going to be.”
On Thursday, the projected high in Las Vegas was 72 degrees, according to wunderground.com. The first Cup race of the year at LVMS will be held March 4. According to accuweather, the historic average high for that day is 66 degrees.
But the newly added fall race, which will open the playoffs, is scheduled for Sept. 16. The historical average high for that day is 93 degrees.
Busch arrived in his hometown for the test after an offseason full of waiting for a new contract to be finalized with SHR and a change in crew chiefs for the defending Daytona 500 winner.
Billy Scott takes over for long-time crew chief Tony Gibson. Gibson now has a job overseeing car production at the SHR shop after spending the last three seasons working with Busch.
“It felt good to get the contract signed,” Busch said. “We had to go through some of the waiting period in what you would call free agency, but it wasn’t all that equivalent to such. It’s more about all the balls in the air with sponsorship, manufacturer, my agenda, the team’s agenda. It’s great to have that behind us. With Billy Scott, new crew chief, that was part of one of the things that I was looking to work on. Where’s the personnel going to fit in? Because I knew in my heart Tony Gibson … wanted to come off the road. We had to make sure we made all the right adjustments behind the scenes for that.”
Before the Cup Series returns to Las Vegas in just over a month, it begins the season at Daytona International Speedway with the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.
The 39-year-old driver will seek to become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 in back-to-back seasons since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.
“Definitely feeling the pressure for Daytona,” Busch said. “Family and friends have been asking me, ‘You won Daytona, do you feel less pressure?’ I feel more. I want to go back there and repeat and it hasn’t been done since the (mid) 90s with Sterling Marlin. That gives us that extra motivation to go there and win. Frankly, I don’t want to share any of the spoils that come with winning Daytona. I want to keep that for ourselves again.”
His win last year was his first points win on a restrictor-plate track. Entering his 18th full-time season in Cup, Busch is still looking for his first victory at his home track.
The March 4 race will mark Busch’s 17th Cup start in Las Vegas. But this year will be the first time he’s gotten two chances to win at it in one season.
“It’s never translated into home-field advantage, I’ve always struggled here in Vegas,” Busch said. “I’ve qualified well over the years but haven’t raced well.”
Busch has one top five at LVMS. That came in 2005 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. His average finish is 21.8.
“I’m looking to turn that around,” Busch said. “There’s no sense in having those fast laps at the beginning if you can’t back them up at the end of the race.”