There was a time when a wrecked car on Friday would make for a miserable rest of the weekend for Kurt Busch.
And perhaps there may still be a day when it does again.
Whether it’s a new attitude since his return from suspension or the relationship with his new crew chief, Tony Gibson – or some of both – there seems a different approach this season for Busch.
It was especially evident this weekend at Michigan International Speedway when Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team took a disappointing Friday and molded it into a surprising victory in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400.
Busch did get some help, when the race was halted by rain with 62 of 200 laps remaining and he was in the lead.
Although he led only the final six laps, he did have a fast car capable for competing for the win, and that was a testament to Busch’s crew and the team’s collective response to a crisis.
“Sometimes you have to get down and dirty,” Busch said. “You have to really roll up your sleeves, get your elbows dirty and put the work into it.
“Tony Gibson makes these guys work a little extra hard. I always say thanks. I’m always there early with them. And it’s a great team chemistry feel.”
The win is Busch’s second in the Sprint Cup Series this season and 27th of his career. Even more remarkable is that he is 11th in the series standings after missing the first three races of the season because of a suspension by NASCAR for his involvement in a domestic violence incident.
It has been a different Busch since his return, both on the track and off.
He and his team were tested thoroughly Sunday as the race was halted four times by rain. There were more than two hours of delays through the first 50 laps of the race.
“You’ve just got to roll with it,” he said. “You’ve got to have fun. You don’t know when the rain is going to stop. You don’t know when the track is going to dry and then if the rain is going to come again.
“You’ve just got to be ready. Any time they tell you to go to your car, that’s when it’s game time, and you race hard, you race to win.”
Gibson said the start of the weekend, with Busch slamming the wall with the right-side of his car in practice, was “crazy.”
The incident happened early enough in the lone practice session Friday that Busch’s team was able to get his backup car prepared in time for him to take a few laps in practice.
“We had tested that car in Las Vegas, so we felt comfortable it would run pretty good,” Gibson said. “Saturday went fairly well, made some adjustments that helped the car.
“It was probably a fifth- to eighth-place car, and then overnight we kind of worked on it a little bit more.”
As the race dragged out through the afternoon and each rain delay, Gibson, his team and Busch’s spotter, Rick Carelli, collectively monitored the situation, hoping to pounce on any opportunity.
A debris caution on Lap 126 with rain in the surrounding area put several teams in a bind. Do you pit assuming the race restarts or gamble that it doesn’t?
Kyle Larson, almost out of gas, stayed out hoping the rain would come, but he was forced to pit for fuel on Lap 132. Busch inherited the lead on Lap 133.
Five laps later, he was also the winner.
“Anytime you win it comes with a basket of goodies, and that is the pep in the step of the crew members, the genuine chemistry and the feel on the shop floor,” Busch said.
“A second win really gives you that stamp that you’re in the Chase – now let’s work through these summer months to continue to make the team better.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
1. Kurt Busch
6. Brad Keselowski
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7. Jamie McMurray
3. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Paul Menard
4. Matt Kenseth
9. Trevor Bayne
5. Joey Logano
10. Clint Bowyer