There was no birthday celebration for Kurt Busch on Sunday at Pocono; in fact he almost forgot it was his big day.
But after 400 miles around the Tricky Triangle Busch was celebrating for a different reason. He finished third in his No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, but more importantly he brought the car home in one piece and closed out the day by finishing where he was capable of running.
“We executed really well today with pit strategy, the pit stops, two tires, four tires, and to be in position at the end. When the 48 [Jimmie Johnson] had their trouble and hit the fence and threw debris out on the track, we were even able to get into the pits before they closed them and get some tires on the car,” said the newly turned 35-year-old Busch.
“The way we made changes to the car, it just seems like the team is flowing really well, and I’m excited for this portion of the season, because we’re now getting back to all these tracks a second time, and we have fresh notes of working together on this Furniture Row Chevy team.”
Repeatedly on Sunday the word excited came from Busch about the prospects moving forward. Five races remain before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in Chicago and Busch still has the chance to be among those racing for the championship.
Over the next few weeks the NSCS visits tracks they’ve already been to this season, which Busch sees as an advantage. The time to be aggressive in their race day approach is now and they’ll know what they did wrong the first time around in hopes of capitalizing the second time.
“So even though we didn’t win, I feel good about this third place finish,” he said. “Even though we didn’t gain points, this was a championship effort type day.”
Busch, who won the championship in the inaugural Chase in 2004, is still searching for his first win of the 2013 season. There have been moments of closeness, strong cars and solid finishes. But there’s also been weeks of frustration and lost opportunities.
Michigan and Sonoma easily come to mind. In both races Busch led laps and was a contender until taking himself out of the picture. Sunday there was no mishaps, no missteps, just a solid car and run that moves them to 13th in points. He’s just 11 markers out of the top 10 and a Chase spot.
“We just need to have nice, solid races and execute just like today,” Busch said about making the Chase.
“What’s amazing is we finished 14th last week [at Indianapolis] and gained one point. We finished third this week and gained two points, it’s so tight. When you’re running against Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion, [Brad] Keselowski, a champion from last year is in this mix, [Greg] Biffle is strong, [Martin] Truex won earlier at Sonoma, this group of guys are all Chase material.”
Busch finished fourth at Sonoma in June and the NSCS heads to their second and final road course next weekend in Watkins Glen. Using one of their tests at The Glen in preparation of the upcoming event earlier this season, Busch noted his confidence in arriving with a car that will have qualifying and race speed. While he’s never won a Cup race the track – he does have two Nationwide wins there – Busch has stepped up at the left and right handed tracks.
He also has multiple victories at three of the four tracks leading up the Chase.
“For us, we’re just putting the blinders on and worried about the 78,” Busch notes about the next five weeks and his competition, “I’m just excited to go back to these tracks a second time and execute with the mistakes we made the first time around.”