NASCAR Sprint Cup: Kurt Busch Reflects on NHRA Debut, Looks Ahead to Bristol

Ryan PapasergeCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2011

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 04:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, waits on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 4, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Last weekend, Kurt Busch took a break from making four left turns by making his NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series debut at the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Behind the wheel of a Shell-sponsored Dodge fielded by Allen Johnson in the Pro Stock division, Busch qualified 12th before being defeated by Erica Enders in the first elimination round.

During NASCAR's weekly media conference Wednesday, the driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing praised the NHRA for providing a great fan experience at Gainesville Raceway.

"It was such a great time I had there with the fans," Busch said.

"You file out of the grandstands, then you have the perfect pit-area-type atmosphere. It's easy that way because all the cars are towed through the pits. Nobody really drives through like we do with our garage area where there's a hot pit area."

The Sprint Cup points co-leader also credited those involved with the sport (the teams and officials) for helping him make the transition.

"Everybody was welcoming us into their group," Busch said.

"The fraternity of drivers was encouraging us, offering advice, trying to help us. It was really a unique feeling to be the new guy but also to be the one with the notoriety from the Sprint Cup Series, and the excitement level for the energy of everybody there."

From the racing end of things, Busch believes that his experience under the "Christmas tree" and the quarter-mile will assist him while taking the green flag on both starts and restarts.

"It's been great just to feel the rear tires and try not to slip them on restarts," Busch said.

"Hopefully, that will help me on the short tracks, Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond. Even our road courses where we're trying to put down that good forward bite."

When it comes to those restarts, Busch noted that the best way to earn an advantage is not through the rear tires, but rather how one accelerates when the green flag flies as well as lane choices. 

"A key element is to be able to react to which lane is going to have the advantage, whether it's the high lane, the low lane, whether you have to squeak it into the middle," Busch said.

"There's all kinds of action that happens on restarts. Restarts are an important element of what we go through in Cup racing."

It's very likely that Busch and the other 42 drivers will see a great amount of restarts Sunday, at the Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch has five wins in 20 starts at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile," winning the spring race at the track in 2002-04 and 2006.

However, those wins took place before Bristol was resurfaced in 2007. The beating and banging has almost taken a back seat to the actual racing at the track in recent years, something Busch doesn't expect to last permanently.

"The track has definitely changed," Busch said.

"I don't think by any means do I have it figured out. Once they've gone to the new style of banking, the progressive banking, new concrete, it's definitely been a more generous Bristol. Each time we go back, it seems like the drivers are more comfortable, ready to mix it up even that much more."

Busch recalled his 2002 victory—his first career Sprint Cup win—as one of his most memorable moments at the concrete track. He memorably bumped Jimmy Spencer out of the lead in the race's later stages, touching off an infamous rivalry between the two drivers.

"I didn't wreck him, but I did move him," Busch said.

"That's the short track atmosphere, the excitement you see at Bristol. That's what makes it so much fun and intense."