Kurt Busch An Education in Qualifying

Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will be channeling his inner University of Arizona Wildcat as he attempts to “Bear Down” and conquer the new Sprint Cup knockout qualifying format. This will be Busch’s first challenge as the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the second race of the 2014 season.

Starting this weekend in Phoenix, NASCAR will move away from single-lap qualifying to a new knockout qualifying format. At tracks measuring less than 1.25 miles, qualifying for the Pole Award will consist of two rounds. The first qualifying elimination round will be 30 minutes in duration and include all cars. The 12 cars that post the fastest single lap time from the first qualifying round will advance to the second and final round. The remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round in descending order. There will be a 10-minute break between the two rounds. Then the second and final qualifying round will be 10 minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time posted will determine the Pole Award winner through 12th position in descending order.

Under the previous single-car qualifying format, Busch had a history of strong performances at Phoenix. He qualified on the front row three times, the top-five six times and the top-10 in 13 of his 22 starts. Not only has Busch capitalized on his qualifying efforts but he also turned them into quality finishes. In the nine races Busch started in the top-five at Phoenix, he has one win, three top-five finishes and has never finished outside of the top-10.

In 2005, Busch qualified second to pole-winner Jeff Gordon in the first spring race and first night race ever held at Phoenix. He went on to lead 219 laps en route to his only win at the mile oval. The race marked the first time a driver recorded a perfect 150.0 driver rating at Phoenix. Busch’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick is the only other driver to score a perfect 150.0 driver rating at Phoenix, having achieved it during the November 2006 race.

Busch appeared on the front row for the second time at Phoenix in November 2009, when he qualified second to Martin Truex Jr. He scored his second top-10 from the front row, leading 69 laps and finishing sixth.

His most recent front-row appearance at Phoenix came in February 2011, when he started second to pole-winner Carl Edwards. Busch led 31 laps and finished eighth.

Busch, a former College of Pharmacy degree candidate at the University of Arizona in nearby Tucson, is looking forward to returning to his school’s home state as he aspires to earn Haas Automation its first Sprint Cup victory in the series. Haas Automation has served as a primary sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series for 11 different drivers and 110 races since 2002. When Busch takes the green flag in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500k, he will also be attempting to make his first visit to victory lane since his last Sprint Cup win in October 2011 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World, is owned by SHR founder and co-owner Gene Haas.