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With Sprint Cup off, Kurt Busch set to dabble in drag racing


The backstory of Kurt Busch's professional drag racing debut involves revenge for a race he technically didn't lose.

On a "NASCAR night" at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., a few years ago, Greg Anderson hopped into a 1,200-horsepower Dodge Viper in a match race against Kasey Kahne. The four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion handily defeated Kahne while destroying the standard-issue clutch in the Viper, a special edition (the 25,000th off Dodge's assembly line) owned by the 2004 Sprint Cup champion.

He thought it was a lease vehicle, and I said, 'Dude, this is my car,' " Busch says, laughing. "I said, 'I'm going to get my license, go to drag racing school, come back and drive your car.' "

At this weekend's Tire Kingdom Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., the Penske Racing driver will try to beat Anderson's Pontiac instead of borrow it.

In one of the season's most prestigious events (NHRA will celebrate its 60th anniversary this weekend with a match race between Don "Big Daddy" Garlits and Darrell Gwynn), the 28-time NASCAR winner will make his debut in NHRA's most competitive pro class. There will be at least 23 drivers vying for 16 spots in Sunday's Pro Stock eliminations, and Busch's goal is to advance to the quarterfinals.

"That's very high expectations," he said. "These guys are tough. I know they'll make me chew on humble pie."

Busch tested his Dodge Avenger this week at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park for the third time in two months, making about two dozen runs that have impressed teammate Allen Johnson (who is supplying the car, engine and the assistance of crew chief Mark Ingersoll).
"I'll give him an A," says Johnson, the Team Mopar driver-owner who was sixth in 2010 points. "He's got a good feel for the car and a fire in his belly. He's meticulous."

Though he reviews the graphs of data that are spit out by telemetry after each run, Busch's natural instincts helped him acclimate, too, as he quickly divined he'd spun his tires in first gear. He posted 6.61-second passes Tuesday that were 0.03 seconds slower than Johnson, but he might need to improve to qualify in the field's top half (and earn first-round lane choice for eliminations). In last month's Winternationals, 0.087 seconds separated the top and last qualifier in the 16-driver field.

Aside from learning new lingo for setup adjustments, Busch (who honed his skills at Roy Hill's drag racing school) also must master a discipline demanding precision. Pro Stock drivers shift five times in roughly 4 seconds and must be within 50 RPMs in each gear for optimum. Dashboard shift lights help navigate the 210-mph joyride.

"It's a rush," says Busch, who will be wheeling 1,400 horsepower (vs. 850 for his No. 22 Dodge in Cup). "It takes usually a 2-mile racetrack to warm up to 210. It's like running a 100-meter dash in drag racing vs. a marathon in Cup. This spikes so high and drops so fast, it's a whole different adrenaline fix. I'm loving it."

Though he has sponsorship from Dodge and Shell, Busch (who lost in the first round of the Super Gas sportsman class with a Challenger in last year's rain-plagued Gatornationals) is funding the project partly out of his pocket. He is renting a hauler from Penske and has an all-volunteer crew that he says "feels like a return to grass-roots racing."

Anderson, though, jokes he isn't convinced Busch is motivated only by having fun.

"I think the real reason might be trying to exact some revenge from a certain drag racer who killed his clutch," Anderson says. "He's going to be in a fast hot rod, and he could definitely surprise a lot of people. We had better be on our toes, or that clutch could turn out to be pretty expensive."


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Kurt Busch makes elimination rounds at NHRA event


GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch carried around the qualifying results from his first professional drag-racing event Saturday.

He didn't fold it or stuff it in a pocket.

He was taking this one home with him — to be framed.

The 2004 Sprint Cup champion bounced back from two error-filled qualifying runs with two solid passes Saturday and advanced to the all-important elimination rounds.

"It was an overall better day," said Busch, the 32-year-old Penske Racing driver who is tied atop the Sprint Cup points standings. "You've got to have those tough days to go through to make you appreciate what a good day can be, and today was that, so we're really excited."

Busch's best run covered the quarter-mile strip in 6.532 seconds and reached 211.46 mph in the Pro Stock division, good enough to earn the No. 12 seed in the elimination bracket.

Busch will face fifth-seeded Erica Enders in the opening round of the 16-car field Sunday. The winner will advance to the next round, and the loser will go home.

"When you put the helmet on, everything's equal," said Enders, who posted the fastest qualifying speed (213.57 mph). "It doesn't matter if it's Kurt Busch or George Bush, we're going to do the same thing. I think it's great for the sport that he's here. I think it's going to shed a new light on it.

"Hopefully he'll go back and tell his NASCAR buddies how awesome NHRA is and how tough Pro Stock is to drive."

Busch found that out Friday as he messed up just about everything possible. He smoked the tires at the starting line, then mistakenly shut down the engine during his first pass. He got timed out for failing to stage properly during his second run.

"Everything that I was supposed to be doing this weekend should have been done at a sportsman level," Busch said. "It's right there exposed for everybody. It's part of growing up and learning. I just wish I had more time to do drag racing. It's a lot of fun and we're very committed to doing this."

Busch acknowledged that the first-round matchup was an interesting one, especially since Enders is the only woman in the field. He fully expects to be mocked in the NASCAR garage if she beats him.

"I'm sure there's going to be the razzing," Busch said. "But it would be an accomplishment if we are able to advance. It can go either way. ... You can't take anybody lightly in this whole Pro Stock field. I think the lightest guy you can take is me because I've got the least amount of experience. I've got my own self to go up against. Hopefully we hit the right marks and we do well."

Enders believes all the pressure is on Busch even though he's an NHRA rookie.

"Think about what he's thinking," she said. "It's his first race, he's got me, he's got a girl, he's got 80 million people in his entourage, it's tough. I've driven Pro Stock for seven years, and when I first started, being the only girl in a really long time, I had cameras in my face. I know what he's going through.

"It's hard no matter how great of a driver you are. He's awesome in NASCAR and got a ton of experience. He's a professional. He'll do fine tomorrow. We'll see who comes out on top."

Making the elimination field was Busch's primary goal after months of preparation. He spent 10 days testing and made more than 50 practice runs before coming to Gainesville, where he raced in the Sportsman class last year.

He said his accomplishment ranked right up there with his first NASCAR race and his first victory, a main reason he plans to display the qualifying results.

"This one holds a little bit more special place in my heart because I did it with my own program," said Busch, whose crew is mostly volunteers. "To be able to do this with my group of guys, that self-satisfaction, it's high up there on the list."

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Team Mopar® Dodge Pro Stockers Allen Johnson, Kurt Busch Exit in First Round at NHRA Gatornationals

Gainesville, Fla. , Mar 13, 2011 - Team Mopar® NHRA Pro Stock drivers Allen Johnson and Kurt Busch bowed out early today in the elimination rounds at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, losing to Greg Stanfield and Erica Enders, respectively, at Gainesville Raceway.

Johnson, the No. 9 qualifier in his J&J Racing Mopar Dodge Avenger, faced No. 8 Stanfield in the opening round, without lane choice. The Team Mopar veteran shook the tires as soon as he left the starting line and watched his opponent speed down the track to seize the round win.

“We have to qualify well. Being first out is a place that we’re not familiar with,” said Johnson, who was in the first pair to compete in eliminations. “It’s a very precarious place to be. It’s very hard to get off the starting line in a very fast fashion. You can be conservative, but we didn’t think we could do that racing Greg. Qualifying bad is what got us.

“Otherwise, it was a great weekend. With the run he made and the light he had, Kurt (Busch) would have beat eight of the 16 cars out here, and he’s happy about that fact. But we’ve got to get our car on track. I felt good about my driving today; I felt good about everything. Qualifying and being first out got us.”

Despite his first-round exit, Busch was upbeat concerning his Gatornationals performance. The Pro Stock rookie, No. 12 qualifier and Dodge Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup star drew Enders in the first round after quieting the naysayers with passes of 6.532/211.46 and 6.554/211.06 in qualifying yesterday. Advancing to eliminations in his very first Pro Stock event, Busch nearly pulled off a major upset against the veteran Enders, posting a 6.541/211.59 run to her 6.538/211.69 mark. Busch also notched a solid .049 reaction time off the starting line in his Shell Dodge Avenger. Enders’ margin of victory: a mere 10 feet.

“It was a great experience, to be competitive like we were,” said Busch, who will return to his regular No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger next weekend in the NASCAR Cup event in Bristol, Tenn. “It was a solid burnout, it was a great staging. I felt like she (Enders) was taking a long time to jump in and stage, so I rolled in first. It was the best (data) graph we produced in all of testing and in all of our rounds here at Gainesville, with our shift marks and everything else. It was the best run we’ve ever put together, and we just came up short.

“This was a weekend I’ll never forget. I feel we can hold our heads high about this. To have the opportunity to be out here and to make the field was one accomplishment, and to see our run and see how we produced in that first-round effort, we would have beat half the field, with adding together reaction time and elapsed time. So we put together a solid run.”

Asked once again about his future plans in the NHRA Pro Stock class, Busch said, “The way that we evolved, the way that we advanced through this weekend to feel more comfortable as a crew and as a driver, it was a fantastic, gratifying experience. Do I want to go do it again? Yes. Does the schedule pan out? It shows that we could go to Denver in July (at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals). That’s getting close to the cutoff point on when we really need to focus on our Cup points battle. If we’re right there in the 10th or 11th spot of making our Chase, then it’s not going to be the appropriate time to go and do that event. Only time will tell.”

Another Pro Stock rookie, Vincent Nobile, made the show at Gainesville, losing to Jason Line in a first-round battle. Next up for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is the NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 1–3. For more information on the NHRA, visit

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Mar 28, 2011
Mopar Captured goes behind the scenes as Mopar Dodge Avenger NHRA Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson and NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch test their Mopar-powered Dodge Pro Stockers prior to NHRA Gatornationals.
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