Kurt Busch battling to hold Chase spot
Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch says that being “the most professional that you can be” is the way to mentally fight through managing an ill-handling car.
Busch has had a bit of practice with handling the latter this season. He’s ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, which puts him in position to snare a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But it’s been a fight to stay there as the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil team has battled a series of problems in recent weeks. Busch has just one top-five finish this year and five top 10s for the season.
He will start 26th in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Meanwhile, teammate Brad Keselowski is reaping the benefits of changes quickly. Keselowski will start from the pole position Sunday after finishing third and 13th in the last pair of points races.
Keselowski sees recent changes within his team as benefitting his young team. Most of his guys were in the Nationwide Series not that long ago, so their increasing knowledge, coupled with the changes and Keselowski’s driving talent, are paying dividends now.
He says that turning loose his crew chief Paul Wolfe and car chief Jerry Kelley to work on the car has made the difference.
“Allowing guys like Paul Wolfe and my car chief Jerry Kelley, which are just true grass-roots racers that have graduated through levels and polished their skills, to work on the race cars and make decisions, I think that’s what is going to pay off, and I'm starting to see it already,” Keselowski said. “There are things on this car this week that would have never been on it before.
"It’s not some amazing new muffler bearing, it's small little things. It’s putting the car together right and having the ability to do that without jumping over 20 to 30 hurdles. That’s what this sport is about. It’s about small details and we’re getting the details a little bit better each week with the 2 team.”
Busch and his group are working toward it as well, but haven’t seen as much success.
He says that professional approach is how he handles the challenge of having issues with his car.
“It’s a matter of trying to be the most professional that you can be about it,” Busch said. “Not every situation is good. You're being graded on how you persevere through the troubling times.”
And then he appeared to think that his obscenity-laced tirade at Richmond in May — one that drew a fair amount of criticism in media reports and comment sections — was just part of being a personable driver.
“I always laugh and listen to you guys contradict yourselves because you say that you want us to be more colorful, but all that you want to do to a driver is just thrash them when they show personality,” he said. “That’s what I’m going through with this radio and from now on, there’s not going to be anything on it except solid team communication because that’s all there needs to be.”
More troubling than any radio chatter, though, is the struggle of Busch’s team. The Penske Racing team, with the 2004 champion and high expectations, seemed to have a recipe for success. But while the team is in Chase position, it hasn’t shown the strength or consistency of others it hopes to battle for the 2011 title.
“It’s tough to know whether you’re chasing your own tail or you’re the lead dog,” Busch said. “I’ve always drawn the conclusion that if you get complacent because you’re doing well, then the cycle is going to come and find you. You always have to look around, find new ideas and polish up in areas. . . .
"Whether its pit crew, aerodynamics, engine shop, I’ve seen those Roush (Fenway Racing) guys at Texas. You could just see the new level of competition they have under the hood. David Ragan is on the pole by two-and-a-half tenths. That just doesn’t happen every day. They’ve got their program together, and everybody has to advance more to be on top.”
Asked what kind of timetable he had, Busch said teams are all trying to make the Chase. He’s hoping, though, to see improvement before that.
“If we’re in good position by mid-September, that’s where we need to be because that way we have a good 10-week run and the next thing you know, we’re in championship contention. That’s what it takes. Right now, it’s important to get a good start here after Charlotte, including this weekend, but into June and July, and of course August is a very important month.”