Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 19, 2017) – The New England Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots won 34-28 in overtime.
The Boston Red Sox were down three games to zero to the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. They made history by winning four in a row and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
So, it’s not how you start in the playoffs, it’s how you finish.
And that’s what Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is thinking as he looks toward this week’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Busch was in the top-10 for much of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois but, on lap 190, he felt a vibration and was forced to pit under green on lap 200. Unfortunately for Busch, he was caught speeding on pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty.
That meant Busch finished a disappointing 19th in the race, two laps down, and now finds himself in 13th place with two races remaining until the playoff field is trimmed to 12 drivers.
Fear not for Busch, however. He’s had much success at New Hampshire.
The 39-year-old has three wins, two second-place finishes, seven top-threes, eight top-fives, 14 top-10s and has led a total of 541 laps in his 33 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at New Hampshire.
Busch’s three NASCAR Cup Series wins at New Hampshire ties him for the most among active drivers, joining Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.
And while every win is cherished, those first two New Hampshire triumphs carry significant importance.
Busch swept the NASCAR Cup Series races at New Hampshire in 2004. He overcame a 32nd-place qualifying effort in the July race to lead twice for 110 laps en route to his first Cup Series win at the track. His second victory came that September, when he led three times for a race-high 155 laps. Busch went on to win the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
When Busch won at New Hampshire in September 2004, he became the first driver to win a race in NASCAR’s playoffs. The victory placed Busch in a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for first place in the championship standings. Busch also became one of only two drivers to have swept the slate of NASCAR Cup Series races at New Hampshire. The other is Johnson, who swept the pair of Cup Series races in 2003.
Busch’s most recent victory at New Hampshire came in July 2008, when he won the rain-shortened Cup Series race. He only led 10 laps, but they were the final 10 of the 284 contested.
With the opening round of the NASCAR playoffs one-third complete, Busch is hoping he can find some New England luck and skill to advance to round two.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your record at New Hampshire is pretty stout. Why is that?
“It’s a track that has been pretty good to me since I started racing in the top series of this sport. I raced there for the first time in the Truck Series and won that race. Then, it’s a track where I have three wins in the Cup cars and, when you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you confidence. Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”
Are the challenges at New Hampshire the same as always, or does the track change over the years?
“It seems like it has changed a little bit toward the end of the race with a lot of aggressive restarts. That is when you gain positions, or it’s easy to lose positions. Everybody is out there elbows out, pushing hard, and you hope to not have trouble.”
What do you need your car to do really well at New Hampshire to have a chance to win?
“It’s got to be able to cut in the center of the corner, cut underneath guys, look to get to that bottom lane and drive up off the corner and get side-by-side with guys. That way you have position on corner exit.”
With New Hampshire being a tight and flat mile oval, it has some short-track characteristics in that there’s close racing and sometimes contact is made. If you inadvertently get into someone, do you try to right that wrong so it doesn’t come back to bite you later?
“It depends upon the circumstances but, yes. Usually, you’re trying to keep your eye on the main prize, which is victory lane at the end of the day. If you have a run-in early in the race, that guy is going to be trying to find you or you’re looking over your shoulder. So if you can sort of hit a reset button and right a mistake, you do that, but not at the expense of taking yourself out of position for the win.”
What do you remember about winning the title in 2004?
“Having the plan beforehand and executing it, and it went perfect nine out of the 10 weeks there. The only week that didn’t go smoothly was the engine failure in Atlanta, but a plan was put together months in advance. That’s how you get ahead to be able to bring more energy and more to the track – your preparations are done months in advance, so we looked at things around July 1 on where we were this year and what we really needed to pour into the car, and I would say that our August and September went really well after changing things around in July.”
What do you remember about the final race at Homestead in 2004?
“The biggest things from the final race the year I won the championship was, 60 laps to go, our crew chief Jimmy Fennig said he didn’t want to pit because we couldn’t make it on fuel. We could go about 55 laps on fuel then. I’m looking at the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). They’re just ahead of me and, if they pit, I’m pitting because it means we’re all going to make it to the end on gas together or we’re all going to run out together. You race the cars around you, not necessarily the race itself. So there’s that added element that you have to adjust to to be a champion in this sport, so that’s the biggest thing that stood out. We ended up making it. There were a couple of extra yellows and that helped us all race our way back up to the top-five together. Johnson finished second. I think Gordon was third and I was fifth and I had just enough points in the bank to be able to win the championship.”