While the first day of summer is still a few weeks away, the unofficial start to the summer season always kicks off with Memorial Day. Ice cold coolers, straw hats, pool parties – all are highlights of summer. And, as Faith Hill described in her 2006 hit, the season is about good times, “Sunshine and Summertime.”
Summer, however, takes on a completely different meaning for anyone associated with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The imagery of backyard barbecues and sandcastles are replaced with images of tracks with the names of Dover, Pocono and Michigan – to name a few. The first 12 races of the season are in the books and the second third of the schedule, the “Summer Swing,” begins with this Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
The upcoming series of races can be a brutal stretch with extensive travel to locations up and down the Eastern Seaboard to the road race on the West Coast and back to the beaches of Daytona for the annual Fourth of July weekend event. In addition to the travel schedule, summer means rising temperatures and the need to prepare for the increased heat. While the upcoming portion of the NASCAR schedule is tough, some drivers find comfort in getting down to business at a series of tracks for which they have an affinity. Kurt Busch is one such driver.
Busch has visited victory lane at four of the next five race locations, including this weekend’s race at Dover, where he won the fall race in 2011. Aside from going into this weekend’s race as its most recent winner, Busch enters the weekend having scored six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 23 career starts. He hasn’t earned a pole at Dover but his qualifying record has earned him an average starting position of 10th. In addition to having a win in Sprint Cup Series competition, Busch has also visited victory lane at Dover in the Camping World Truck Series – during his rookie season in 2000.
Adding to the optimism for this weekend’s race at Dover is that the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team was one that participated in the Goodyear tire test in mid-April and was pleased with the speed it found during that session. The team will be using the same car it ran at the test for this weekend’s race. This particular car was used most recently at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where the team competed in the top-10 for the majority of the race before a late accident relegated Busch to a 21st-place finish.
The heat will be on for the upcoming summer portion of the NASCAR schedule. While the temperatures and the racing action is heating up, Busch and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team will be looking to take advantage of extra test time and past experience to create a new batch of summer memories.