If you ask Kurt Busch if there is any concern about the performance of he and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team, he offers a straightforward answer in a typical Busch fashion.
“We’re just not getting the job done,” Busch said this week. “That’s flat out. And we’re not ignoring that fact.”
Busch sits 17th in the point standings going into the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Through the season’s first 11 races, Busch has earned just two top-10 finishes, has an average finish of 18.8, and has led only three laps.
“We’re doing really good at running 11th at the end of the stages, and we haven’t quite found the balance in traffic this year,” he said. “Our car, we’ve made a step in the wrong direction in my mind on maneuverability and being able to put fresh tires on and go for it. Right now, our car seems to take 10 laps to get the tires heated up, and so at Kansas, I think we were 11th in the first stage, 12th in the second stage, and finished the race 15th.”
Kansas was one example of Busch’s struggles to get his car to go on fresh tires. Under caution with 23 laps to go, Busch was among those who came down pit road. At one point, Busch was racing with Kevin Harvick, who had a speeding penalty.
A rash of cautions flew in the final laps brought multiple restarts and opportunities for drivers to use the choose rule. But while Harvick moved forward, Busch went nowhere.
“Harvick was back there after a pit road penalty with us, we were one of the last cars on the lead lap, and he knifed his way through there to get to second,” Busch pointed out. “Our car just could not give me the confidence to make moves and to make bold, carving decisions through the corner. I just had to kind of nurse it home. We needed those points because we’ve just been in a snowball.
“We had a bad finish at Atlanta, and then we started 30th the next week due to the qualifying matrix. Well, when you do that, now you’re in the back. Plus, you get a bad pit selection. Now guys are blocking you in on pit road all day. So, it’s been a battle, and we’re just laughing at the whole matrix of the qualifying and starting position. I’m really excited for COTA and for the Coke 600, where we get our own qualifying sessions.”
Having to come from the middle to back of the field each week has also hurt Busch with stage points — as he said, he’s “really good” at almost getting there. Busch has earned 33 stage points thus far, while Denny Hamlin leads the series with 156 stage points.
The Daytona road course and Homestead are Busch’s two best results this season (fourth and eighth respectively). Those races, however, were back in February. Since then, the highest Busch has finished is 13th at Richmond.
Busch is confident his team can contend for races and give him what he needs to make that happen. The playoffs will soon on the horizon as the Cup Series is on a stretch of 15 races in 16 weeks, including a doubleheader at Pocono Raceway next month. If Busch is to be in the postseason again, he acknowledges things need to start going smoother.
“I have confidence in every single one of the guys, all of our tools,” Busch said. “Our application might need to be adjusted at this point. It’s the same rules package as last year. It’s the same tire. But we’re having all different kinds of movements in the car, primarily in the front, and it changes dramatically from low air to high air for us this year.
“We have to really look ourselves in the mirror and challenge ourselves to get out of this little rut that we’re in and put ourselves in a better playoff position — and to make a run through the playoffs later. Lots of cool tracks coming up. Some are in the playoffs. Some aren’t. The road courses are going to be fun this summer. No real reason to have a huge panic, but we can’t have any more blow-up races, so to speak. We can’t get caught up in any wrecks, not of our doing.”