Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kurt Busch Has ‘Haasome’ Day at Pocono

Haas Automation/Monster Energy Driver Locks in Chase Berth with Win

  • Date: June 6, 2016
  • Event: Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 (Round 14 of 36)
  • Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
  • Location: Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)
  • Start/Finish: 9th/1st (Running, completed 160 of 160 laps)
  • Point Standing: 2nd (465 points, 25 out of first)
  • Winner: Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet)
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), overcame team and fuel challenges to win Monday’s rain-delayed Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

The win was Busch’s 28th career Sprint Cup victory, his third ever at Pocono and his first of 2016. With the victory, Busch has virtually locked himself into a spot in the 16-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup as one of nine drivers who have scored wins thus far this season.

“It’s special anytime you win,” said Busch, who has now scored Pocono wins with three different teams. “For (crew chief) Tony Gibson to be out this week because of a lug-nut issue, we had to overcome a lot. Johnny Klausmeier – our interim crew chief, our lead engineer – he stepped up, and when you do that it makes you really feel good about that team comradery, that team chemistry and that team effort.

“I didn’t know if we were going to have enough fuel,” Busch said. “I would like to say thanks to everybody at Haas Automation, Monster Energy and Stewart-Haas for all of their support. This is a wonderful win for us. We have been so close all year. It’s a matter of just putting it all together, pit crew, engine; thanks to Hendrick engines and Chevrolet and everybody that works on these bodies, the chassis, you name it. It’s just so much fun to drive and to be competitive and to be up front.”

Busch started from the ninth position and ran inside the top-10 for the first half of the race, but he steadily moved up to the top-five for the second half of the 160-lap race.

Interim crew chief Klausmeier, filling in for the suspended Gibson, called for air pressure adjustments throughout the race, which improved the car’s handling as Busch inched his way toward the front of the field. However, the critical part of the race came with 40 laps to go when on lap 119 Klausmeier took a gamble, bringing Busch to pit road for fuel in hopes it would take the No. 41 to the finish. By Klausmeier’s calculations, Busch likely would be two laps shy to make it to the end.

Busch restarted third after the final caution of the race, then made a bold move to pass Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott as the three Chevrolets exited turn three. He eventually made the pass for the lead in turn one. From there, Busch was not only able to keep the lead, he was able to save enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag and still have enough for his celebratory burnout on the frontstretch.

“I was like, whoa, how many laps shy are we?” Busch said of his fuel situation on the final run of the race. “They said two. These are really long straightaways at Pocono, and you have to manage saving fuel as well as maintaining lap time. So many thoughts can go through your head, but I just stuck with the checklist. I just stuck with saving fuel and watching the No. 88 (Earnhardt) behind us.

“Thanks to Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, everybody at Haas Automation, Monster Energy – it’s our first win in the Cup Series for Monster. It’s awesome to be able to have the team week in and week out to be competitive and then to put it all together today.”

Busch’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS, finished ninth.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery/FOX Sports GO Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 32nd. Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 34th. Both drivers were caught up in the same accident on lap 94, and each returned to the race after making repairs, albeit several laps down.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 1.126 seconds behind Busch, while Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Harvick and Ryan Blaney comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 10 caution periods for 40 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.

With round 14 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 490 points, 25 ahead of teammate Busch. This marks the second straight week SHR drivers have been 1-2 in the championship standings.

Patrick is 26th with 245 points, 65 ahead of 31st-place Regan Smith. Stewart is 36th with 118 points, 71 out of the top-30. If Patrick or Stewart win a race and finish among the top-30 in points following the 26th race of the season Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, each will earn a Chase berth. Harvick earned a Chase spot via his win March 13 at Phoenix International Raceway and Busch secured his position via the win at Pocono.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday, June 12, at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Coverage by FS1 begins with NASCAR RaceDay at 11:30 a.m. EDT, and the race broadcast begins at 1 p.m.

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