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Sprint Cup - Kurt Busch Pocono Preview

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MOORESVILLE, Aug. 3, 2012: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has started the process of winding down. A champion has yet to be crowned. The sport’s version of playoffs – the Chase for the Championship – is still six weeks away and the 12 drivers who will compete for the championship have yet to be determined. A total of 16 events remain on the 2012 schedule and, yet, the countdown to the season finale is well underway. Evidence of this is the series’ second visits to a number of upcoming tracks, including Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400.

This weekend’s race isn’t the first return visit of the season for the Sprint Cup competitors, but it is among the first of 12 repeat appearances that will make up the next 16 weeks of racing. Pocono’s “Tricky Triangle,” a staple on the Sprint Cup schedule since 1974, was last visited by the series a mere eight weeks ago, when drivers and teams encountered a whole new ballgame at the 2.5-mile triangular layout. Drivers and teams were treated to a “watered down” version of what they’ve experienced at Pocono in the past. For the first time, the length of the race had been reduced from 500 to 400 miles, which meant recalculations in race strategy. On top of that, it was the first event since the racetrack underwent an offseason repaving project.

With one race at the “new” Pocono in the books, teams go into this weekend’s event with a far better understanding of the strategy needed to get through 400 miles on the newly paved surface. Strategy, however, is only one part of the equation to finding success at Pocono.

Kurt Busch is one driver who not only has experience at the 2.5-mile track, he’s experienced success along the way. The driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet goes into the race weekend a two-time winner at Pocono. He has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, as well as a pole, to go along with his pair of wins in 22 career starts at Pocono. Busch has led at least one lap in 12 of the last 15 races at Pocono and has only one DNF (Did Not Finish) during that same stretch – an accident in the August 2010 race. He also finished third in this event a year ago.

Additionally, Busch’s solid performance statistics extend beyond tradition and into some pretty stout loop data statistics as he ranks in the top-five in a number of categories, including laps led, fastest laps run, speed in traffic, green-flag speed and average running position. Add it all up and it equates to a third-place driver rating, placing Busch behind only five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s second, and recent perennial Pocono favorite Denny Hamlin, who’s first.

The shininess of the “new” Pocono may have worn off a bit since the June debut of the new racing surface and race distance, but teams will still be looking for any advantage to find success at the tricky track that figures prominently into the last half of the 2012 season. The No. 51 Phoenix Racing team will look to take advantage of Busch’s experience and success to get the most out of Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400.

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:

You’ve had some pretty good results at Pocono. What is it about Pocono that has been good for you?

“It’s a track that you can never get dialed in perfectly for all three corners. You have to compromise. Other tracks like that are Darlington and Phoenix, where all of the corners are different and you have to work your way through each one. When you’re making setup changes, you have to keep in mind what you do in turn one and how it’s going to affect turns two and three.”

How much was able to be learned about the track surface in June?

“Well, it certainly was a brand new track in a sense because, any time you do a repave, it wipes out the notes that the big teams have. But this kind of helped our team a little bit because it helps put a smaller team like ours on a more even playing field. We’re all going into this weekend’s race with one race at the “new” Pocono. So, yes, there might still be some unknowns this weekend because, even though it’s only been eight weeks since the Cup cars were last there, it does change a bit from June to August. Fortunately, it’s the same for everyone, so I don’t feel like we’ll be at any sort of a disadvantage or anything.”

What’s the toughest part of Pocono?

“To me, the tunnel turn has traditionally been the toughest. I don’t want to say it’s a make-or-break turn or anything, but you can gain a lot of speed through there or you can lose a lot of speed there. So you really have to find the right setup that, at the worst, keeps you from losing any momentum but ideally allows you to pick up speed as you prepare for the third turn.”

The No. 51 team had a good run going at Indy last weekend until the pit-road and engine problems. It seems Indy success can oftentimes translate to Pocono success. Do you think we’ll see that this weekend?

“I think you do see that happen, sometimes. It hasn’t happened for me because I just haven’t had the best of luck at Indy in the last few years. Having said that, we were in the middle of a pretty good run there last weekend and then we had some problems. So, there may be some unexpected takeaways from Indy for us.”