By Mike Mulhern
While kid brother Kyle is getting all the attention, Kurt Busch is quietly making ground himself, and this too is his home track.
“If I were to win Vegas on Sunday, man, I’d come unglued,” Kurt Busch says. “It’s my big race. It’s my hometown. I used to race through that desert parking lot before the big track even existed; I saw it built from the ground up.
“Vegas is number one on my hit list right now.”
After opening with a surprise second in the Daytona 500, things went bad at Fontana, where he finished 13th Monday. “We’re cautiously optimistic about what the season holds for our team. We’re trying to get a good handle on this new-style car. We were very fast at times during the California race, but we stalled out late.
“We’ve struggled with what would have been really minor adjustments in the past only to see the car react the opposite of what we were hoping.
“Hopefully by mid-season we’ll have a pretty good handle on it.”
Pat Tryson, his crew chief, would – for starters – like to have just a good qualifying session today: “I’m just curious to see what we can do if we can ever get qualifying in and have a chance to start up front for a change. We started dead last at Daytona (after a car swap) and only 36th at California (because of rain). It would be a nice change to see how strong we can be without starting the race in a hole.
“We came back from the speeding penalty at Daytona, and we came back from our fuel mileage blunder at California—that put us down a lap at one time. So there’s no doubt we’ve been plenty-strong enough to pass a lot of cars.
“Hopefully this weekend we can get in a good qualifying run, start up close to the front, and not have to play catch-up.”
If they do, their fate will be set when Dodge 400 pole runs get underway this afternoon at 3:40 p.m. PST.
Scott Speed, the former Formula One driver now making the move into NASCAR, at the urging of sponsor Red Bull, will be stepping up his learning curve this month, adding some NASCAR Truck events to his full ARCA schedule, beginning with next week’s Atlanta race.
Speed, a Toyota man, will ironically be in a Chevy truck.
The goal is to get Speed up to speed for the Cup series, though the timetable still isn’t clear.
“Every time I’m in the car I’m learning something,” Speed, yet another Californian-in-NASCAR, says. “To get in a Truck or Cup car and go fast by myself has been really easy, easier than I thought, to be honest. What’s difficult—and what I’m learning a lot about—is how the other cars around you affect your car.
“The Truck is the most similar to the car-of-tomorrow, and it is very sensitive to the other cars around you.”
Tim Sullivan, a long-time NASCAR veteran going back to the sport’s very early days in the 1940s, died this week, at 83. Once the general manager of NASCAR’s Motor Racing Network, Sullivan was at home in nearly every aspect of the sport. During WWII, Sullivan was cited for “extraordinary heroism” during the battle for Iwo Jima.
Meanwhile down in the NASCAR trenches, the sport’s long-haul truckers have been getting a workout. “It’s pretty tough because you’re gone to Daytona for almost two weeks to start with and then you get home from there and you’ve got one day to get rested up a little bit to head across country for two more weeks,” Gale Wilson, one of the sport’s veteran long-haulers, says. “It’s a pretty tough time. It’s not an impossible deal, but it stresses everybody out before the season gets started, really.
“They plan probably for the last month…but then it changes daily. You can plan a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily work out the way you planned it.”
Team owners need a full roster of truckers, because this West Coast swing, for example, includes running several different rigs out and back – one of the California race, another to swap out new cars for the Vegas race, and then another bringing cars in for next Monday’s Phoenix test.
“It’s a tough stretch here the first month, real tough,” Wilson says. “It seems it’s tougher now than it was back in the day, when we started out at Daytona, Richmond, Rockingham and Atlanta. That’s the tough part right there—more time away from home.”