From a team perspective, the best thing about auto racing is you’re only as bad — or as good — as your last race. And the worst part of it is that in the grueling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule there is no time to catch your breath, no time to savor the successes.
There’s always a race ahead, and crew chiefs will tell you that the most important race of the season is always the next one on the schedule.
So it’s another busy week for Kurt Busch, his crew chief Daniel Knost and the rest of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Sprint Cup team.
Busch dazzled the auto racing world with a sensational sixth-place run in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, only to see his Coca-Cola 600 end with engine failure in his SHR Chevrolet later that night. Busch won rookie-of-the-year honors at Indy, as well as newfound respect from racers and fans in both series.
But Indy is now in the rear-view mirror, which means it’s time to look ahead, not back. And now will full attention focused on Busch’s day job at SHR, all eyes are on Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.
Busch comes into the race 28th in the Sprint Cup standings, but with a victory at Martinsville Speedway to his credit, which would seem to make him a lock for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The new Chase format will take up to 16 drivers who win races in NASCAR’s 26-race Sprint Cup regular season.
So far, 10 drivers already have won races this year, and with 14 races left in the regular season, it’s possible there could be more than 16 regular-season race winners. It’s not likely that will happen, mind you, but it’s possible.
And so Busch and his team need to make sure they are on track to either win again or move up in the points to protect them from the risk of not making the playoffs.
In truth, the numbers the team has posted in Busch’s first season at SHR have been sobering: The victory at Martinsville and a third-place run at Auto Club Speedway in the previous race are Busch’s only top-20 finishes so far this year in the Cup series. Even more concerning: In Busch’s last six races, his average finish is 32.5. Clearly, there is work to do as NASCAR’s northern summer stretch of races begins.
Knost, the rookie crew chief, knows the team has struggled recently, but remains optimistic.
"I don’t think there are any tracks out there where we can’t be successful," said Knost. "You approach every week with the goal of being successful and winning, but when you look at Kurt’s track record and the Stewart-Haas track record, we’ve done well at Dover. We’ve done well at Pocono. Michigan has been a strong track for Kurt. We’ve had a good road-course program with him and with SHR. And then Loudon, it’s been a good track for him and the company, so I think there are a lot of places on the schedule in the next month or two that line up well for us."
Knost said right now he’s more focused on how the No. 41 runs throughout a race than he is on where it finishes.
"If you ran poorly and you steal something at the end, then maybe you did something that worked out but, at the end of the day, you still ran poorly and you need to figure out why you did," he said. "If you ran well and get taken out or something breaks that isn’t in your control or whatever, then you look at that.
"Then you say, ‘What did we do right?’ and, ‘How did we do in failure mode? What can we do to prevent that from happening in the future?’ That’s probably the best way to even out the highs and the lows. We look at each weekend to evaluate what we do well, what we need to work on and how do we improve on those things."
Dover may provide some early insight into Busch’s fortunes over the summer: In 27 starts at The Monster Mile, Busch has one victory, six top-five and eight top-10 finishes, along with six DNFs.