WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. --- Thousands of NASCAR fans flocked to Watkins Glen International for the I Love New York 355 this past weekend and Kurt Busch is one of the drivers they came to see.
2017 Daytona 500 champion, and driver of the #41 Monster Energy Ford, Kurt Busch has managed to finish in the top ten six times out of his 16 races at the Glen. His highest finish was second place in 2010. Busch aimed to best that and pick up his first victory at Central New York's 2.45 mile track.
Preparing for the Glen
The I Love New York 355 is the 598th start of his career and Busch says he still works with his team to make sure they have the right strategy to conquer a road course. It's a strategy that involves the pedal to left of the accelerator.
"To go up and down the hills, left and right, shift gears, but the brakes are really easy to wear out," Busch said. "That's going to be our focus today, to not overuse the brakes and get into trouble with it."
Busch said his race strategy was to stay in the middle of the pack to conserve his brakes, then let the car loose in the final laps to push for the checkered flag. Before he could execute, he had to know where he would start the race.
To determine the starting position, each driver must compete in two 25-minute rounds. In the first round, the fastest 12 lap times advance. The winner of the second round will begin the race in first.
Busch got off to a fast start logging the sixth fastest time in the field. With a position in the "Fast 12," Busch returned to his pit box with six minutes left in round 1. But as drivers continued to run laps, Busch saw his position falter and with a minute-and-a-half left he fell outside the top 12.
Tires screeched into action and Busch made a desperate attempt to regain his standing. The pit crew nervously eyed the clock as the seconds ticked away, constantly looking down the home stretch for the 41 to come into view.
The seconds read zero and Busch failed to reach the start/finish line, relegating him to start the race in 18th place. The goal of first prize had just gotten a little tougher.
Drivers, Start Your Engines
The sell-out crowd at the Glen rose to its feet, cheering at the top of its lungs as the green flag dropped and the drivers punched their machines into gear with a thunderous roar.
Busch quickly moved up and maintained a 14th position during the first stage of the race (laps 1-20).
After the first stage, a majority of the cars headed into pit row to make adjustments. Busch, however, chose to stay out, moving up to sixth place to start the second stage (laps 21-40) of the race. He remained in the sixth to eighth range, lying in wait to make his final push.
The Home Stretch
The third and final stage of the race consisted of laps 41-90. Executing his strategy, Busch remained in the top ten with first place in his sights. While prior to the race, Busch had harped on conserving his brakes, it was a different variable that began to affect the drivers: fuel.
In the final laps, the I Love New York 355 became a war of attrition. With Busch in tenth place, drivers started running out of fuel and were forced to surrender their positions and pit.
Being forced to conserve fuel, Busch had to hope that drivers in front of him would continue to run out. Unfortunately for him other drivers managed to conserve enough fuel and Busch crossed the finish line in sixth place. The victory at the Glen eluded Busch yet again, but he said he wasn't disappointed in the result.
"The race worked out exactly as we planned." Busch said after the race. "We had to stretch fuel, a few guys ran out, finished position six. Solid day."
What's Next for the 41
Since Busch won at Daytona to start the year his position in NASCAR playoffs, "The Chase" is guaranteed. However, he currently sits in 14th place in the Monster Energy Cup standings with five races left before the Chase.
Next Sunday, Busch travels to Michigan International Speedway, where he's won three times.
BONUS FOOTAGE: Winner Martin Truex, Jr.'s burnout because it ain't a NASCAR race without one.