AVONDALE, Ariz. (Feb. 22, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch had just returned to his team transporter on Sunday afternoon after visiting Victory Lane to congratulate longtime friends on the Daytona 500-winning Wood Brothers racing team. Still miffed for making the wrong move on the final lap of Sunday’s edition of the “Great American Race” which he felt cost him a sure win, he was consoled by team owner Roger Penske and Penske Senior Vice President Bud Denker.
Busch, who was going for history on Sunday, attempting to be the first driver to ever sweep all three NASCAR Sprint Cup races during a single Speed Weeks, emerged from the meeting with a smile and a great big-picture perspective.
“I realize that our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team had a tremendous Daytona Speed Weeks and we all are coming out of here with our heads held high,” Busch said back in the drivers’ motorcoach lot after finishing fifth in his 11th attempt at winning the Daytona 500. “Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys were all just incredible the whole time we have been in Daytona. Our Penske Racing Team certainly did their homework during the off-season and it paid big dividends. My hat goes off to everyone in the body shop, to the guys over in the engine department, our engineering group and all the support crew.
“We really wanted to claim that big chunk of racing history, but we came up just a little short,” said Busch, who finally cracked into the winner’s column in restrictor-plate competition but left Daytona still looking for his first points-paying plate race win after 41 career attempts. “Speed Weeks 2011 was huge for us and just a super way of kicking off our relationship with Shell-Pennzoil, Coca-Cola and all the great sponsors we have supporting our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team.
“We’ve had a lot of success and fun at Daytona this time around, but like I told them, ‘the real season starts right now,'” said Busch, who left Daytona fourth in the Sprint Cup points after the first of 36 races has been put into the record books. “It’s kind of like a football team starting off with two wins and a tie going into a new season. We’ve tasted success, but there could have been even more.
“The important thing is that we didn’t leave Daytona in a hole like we have several times before,” said Busch, whose fifth-place finish Sunday upped his overall Daytona career Sprint Cup record to 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 races. “Now we need to get into a good competitive rhythm, build on the momentum and have another great weekend coming up at Phoenix . Then we can head into (Las) Vegas and on to Bristol , Fontana and Martinsville with a full head of steam.”
Busch, Addington and the “Double-Deuce” Dodge Team certainly have started to lay a sound foundation for a solid 2011 season with their Daytona performance. It’s the best start the 2004 series champion has enjoyed since finishing second in the 2008 Daytona 500, a race where he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to the win. His fifth-place finish last Sunday marks only the second time since he joined Penske Racing back in 2006 that he left Daytona in the top-five in the point standings.
“Kurt is right – it’s full steam ahead for our Shell-Pennzoil ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge Team,” said Addington on Monday afternoon. “Daytona was a great two weeks for us, but our focus has turned totally on getting ready for Phoenix this week, Vegas the next and all the races on down the line. What’s really cool is that unlike last year when we tore up a lot of cars at Daytona, we came out of there totally unscathed. We should be in great shape for Talladega and when we head back to Daytona for the July race.
“Yeah, the big-picture situation is already our primary focus now,” said Addington, who has served as Busch’s team leader for only 37 points-paying races now, yet enjoys one of the most solid driver/crew chief relationships in the sport. “We’re testing at Gresham ( Motorsports Park , a half-mile asphalt track near Jefferson , Ga. ) this week and we’re looking to head out to Phoenix and keep the ball rolling. Kurt really loves that track and I do, too.
“We’re excited about starting off the year like we have and look to build on the success week after week,” said Addington. “We have a great group of guys on our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team and -just like Kurt — we are all dedicated to do what it takes to be right there challenging for the championship at the end of the season.”
Busch has visited Victory Lane before at Phoenix as he won the April 2005 race, the first night race on the track when the second event per season there was added to the schedule. Busch’s overall career record at PIR boasts one win, four top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 16 career starts. He has a 13.6 average start and a 13.2 average finish. He has a 99.7% lap completion average (5,045 of 5,062 laps) and has led a total of 660 laps. He has been running at the finish in all 16 races and running on the lead lap in 12 or the races.
“Phoenix will always be a special track for me and it’s almost like a homecoming each and every time we race there,” said Busch who first visited the “Desert Mile” as a 13-year-old fan who later raced on the track in late model competition before speeding through the ranks in NASCAR Racing. “So much has changed at the track through the years, with them building the tunnel into the infield and adding all those thousands of seats. But it’s still the same old PIR as for it being the demanding one-mile flat track that I love racing on and the same old PIR that holds so many special memories for me personally.
Phoenix Sprint Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 12:30 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. till 5:25 p.m. Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field. Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 (312-lap, 312-mile, 500 kilometer) race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.