Two days after he placed third at Auto Club Speedway, Kurt Busch described the aggression by drivers on restarts at the 2-mile track as “ramped up to another level.”
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver credited the frenetic restarts to the rules package and the stage lengths.
“(With) the package and the draft, you want to be that leader,” Busch said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track.” “You want to be the guy putting on the blocks and you don’t want to be caught in that dirty air. (You can’t race anymore with a) mindset of, ‘Oh, this is a 400-miler or this a 500-miler, we’ll take our time.’ With the way the stages are set up this year, it was a quarter, a quarter and a half of a race. Now it’s a third, a third and a third.”
The stage lengths for Sunday’s 200-lap race were 60 laps/60 laps/80 laps, just like last season. But many races this year feature shorter final stages from last season
“You have three mini-races all in one and you’ve got to gain points from the drop of the green flag,” Busch said. “So everybody’s aggressive, pushing hard. It’s got to be a good show to watch because of how hard everybody’s driving each lap.”
One area Busch noted a change in Sunday is his desire to at least contemplate wanting to race in “dirty air,” which is usually the last thing you’d expect to hear from a driver.
“The race had a feel of when you were in the draft, the lap time felt like it was so much faster,” Busch told SiriusXM. “Because you would go down the straightaway so quick with the draft. Then of course we’d all have to fan out in the corner and grab the fresh air and make sure the handling is underneath the car. Then what’s crazy, on a green flag stop, we’d come in put tires on and go back out. If we were by ourselves, the lap time was so slow. It was dramatically different.
“It was like, ‘I need to be back in the dirty air. At the same time, I don’t want those guys around me in the corners. That takes away that tenth of a second. That quick, small reaction. ‘Is this guy going to go high? Is this guy going to go low?’ Then you end up battling that much harder now in the draft. Bottom line, the draft is twice as intense. By yourself it’s simple, it’s almost wide open, very easy all the way around the track. Two big contrasts that (were) really prevalent at Fontana.”
Busch’s third-place finish Sunday was the best result at Auto Club Speedway by Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 team after three previous sixth-place finishes by Busch and Jamie McMurray.
That couldn’t be said for Busch’s teammate, Kyle Larson, who placed 21st after his early-race incident with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was bump drafting with Larson heading into Turn 1 when Larson lost control and smacked the wall.
A few hours later, Hamlin posted a video on social media of he and Larson in a grocery store with Hamlin re-enacting the incident on the track with a shopping cart.
Team owner Chip Ganassi took to Twitter to call the the video #badtaste.
“I was confused by why they were grocery shopping together to begin with,” Busch said, adding that the incident on Sunday itself was “weird.”
“That’s what we saw a lot at Daytona, guys bump drafting on the straightaway and getting the other guy sideways and wrecked,” Busch said. “I mean you have to be aware all the time, whether Larson was starting to lift because he was catching (Erik Jones) as quick as he was, or because (Kevin Harvick) was pushing Denny. Those guys were definitely in a hooked up draft on the front straightaway, but for what reason, I don’t know. It just seemed a bit aggressive on my side. I can joke with Denny, yeah, but maybe that (video) was too soon. I would go with #toosoon on that one.”