In a way, racing at Talladega Superspeedway is kind of like a football game for Kurt Busch. If he can block those who are trying to tackle or stiff-arm him, he believes he can ultimately run for daylight and the win that has eluded him throughout his Cup career.
“To be able to block all these guys at the end and win it,” Busch said of the key to winning at NASCAR’s longest speedway in a Friday teleconference.
But, try as he may, Busch has yet to take a checkered flag at ‘Dega in 38 previous starts. His best finish to date was runner-up in the spring 2018 race.
“I’ve been in great positions and top-five finishes and coming from behind, but yet, even leading on the last lap and still not able to pull a win, that’s been the toughest,” he said. “You’ve got to be in position to win, which I believe is leading, or second, looking for that slingshot, and that’s been the toughest part is to be able to complete the day to be able to win it.”
The driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE comes into this weekend’s race ranked 10th in the Cup Series standings, 21 points behind brother and ninth-ranked Kyle Busch, and 125 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick.
Even though Talladega is a wildcard race at best, it also kicks off a very key part of the schedule, with five straight races – Dega, a Pocono doubleheader, Indianapolis and Kentucky – that could go a long way towards determining what the eventual Cup playoffs will look like and where the elder Busch brother will place in it.
“I’m looking forward to these next few weeks,” Busch said. “I think we can do really well at Talladega, Kentucky, and Indianapolis. The way that this point of the season is coming together, a lot of these tracks are going to be hot. A lot of them are going to be slick. And that’s what we have to manage without set-ups.”
Even though Cup cars will carry a new rules package to mitigate some of the circumstances incurred in Ryan Newman’s crash in the season-opening Daytona 500, teams will essentially go into Sunday’s race cold, with no practice or qualifying.
Essentially, it will be trial-and-error for drivers, particularly early in the race until the competition caution.
“I think the challenge of all this newness has really put a strategy or a re-thinking into how you approach all the races,” Busch said. “I think with a team like Ganassi and myself, we’re doing a great job at finding the balance right away in the races.
“And then with the way the track is rubbering-in and taking the Goodyear tires and changing the handling characteristics, that’s what we’ve got to do a little bit better with to have more positive outcomes at the end.
“But man, the pit crew has got to be ready to go. You have your set-up balance right away. And then the energy and the vibe that isn’t there pre-race, from our race fans, and autograph sessions, the photos, the crowd, that’s something that’s been tough. You have to block that out because we are all missing that. That’s been one of the toughest parts. We miss our race fans.
“For me, with our group at Ganassi and the restrictor plate races that we have run together, our set-up balance has been really good in practice right off the truck. And so there haven’t been those challenges of where are we for balance?
“So, it allows us to go on offense right away. The problem with that is other teams. Are they just as good right off the truck? And we don’t need to be caught-up in a goofy situation early-on.
“And so there’s the competition yellow that will happen, and that’s been how we’ve been evaluating our races. It’s just ease our way towards that, and then go hard after that because it answers a lot of questions that are hard to really answer because of all the tangibles that we’re dealing with.”