In the world of auto racing, the number 500 carries a lot of weight. There’s the Indianapolis 500, the first iteration of the great 500-mile races, which Kurt Busch attempted for the first time this year. In addition, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing has a career best of third at the Southern 500 as well as three second-place finishes at the Daytona 500 under his belt.
This Sunday though, Busch will join an exclusive 500 club of another kind when he makes his 500th career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in the AAA 400, the same track where his Sprint Cup career began in 2000.
But for the 2004 Sprint Cup Champion, Sunday’s AAA 400 will be even more significant as he is one of 14 drivers racing to earn a spot in the next grid of NASCAR’s updated 10-race playoff format.
Let’s check in with Busch and see how he’s feeling in advance of this weekend’s big race.
Q: Talk a little bit about racing at Dover.
A: “It’s called the Monster Mile for a reason – the track can chew up cars and spit them out. And it’s because of the tough transitions into the corners with the high banking and even the high-banked straightaways. It’s tough to do that sharp of a turn on a mile racetrack. It’s like you literally jump down into the corner and then jump back up out of the corner onto the straightaway, and so those points of the track are the toughest part. It’s a fun track to drive though. You’re always on that edge and, when you’re fast there, it feels extra fast because of how close you have to cut it on corner exit and not hit the wall.”
Q: What’s the toughest part about racing at Dover?
A: “The toughest part is when the track rubbers in and you’re out there for 350 laps, and that last 50 you haven’t simulated in practice, whatsoever, and that is when the track gets rubbered in. You’re out there sliding around and you have to be dialed in for that last 50 laps. It’s hard to predict what setup you need exactly for that and I’ve only found it one time. I’ve only got one win there, and that was September 2011.”
Q: How physical a track is Dover?
A: “You’re just on edge there and the speed that you have to carry on corner exit, you’re right there on the edge of smacking the wall every corner exit and you do it 800 times with 400 laps and two corner exits. That makes it tough. This race will wear you out, for sure, and you have to pace yourself.”