Column: Kurt Busch Trying To Find Delicate Balance Between Speed & Handling

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – BROOKLYN, MI – To Kurt Busch, there were two distinctly different aspects to Friday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Michigan International Speedway—in the draft and out of the draft.

“There cars by themselves are very stable, and there’s a ton of speed,” said Busch, who ran the eighth fastest single lap in the opening session at 187.490 mph. “The you got in the draft, and it was magnified by 10 on how difficult the draft feels and how the car’s reacting.

“So I’m not sure where the balance needs to be between that raw speed versus the handling in the draft.”

That doesn’t mean Busch expects Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to resemble a superspeedway event, with cars racing in close proximity in large packs. But drafting will still be an integral part of the competition at the 2-mile track.

“Yes, it is, because you don’t know where you’ll end up in the corner,” Busch said. “You want the clean air in the corner, but you want the draft on the straightaway. There’s no way to have your cake and eat it, too, so you’ve got to work on the handling side of things to cover that base.”

Even though the fastest Cup cars were roughly 14 mph slower than they were last year with the current higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package, Busch said the cars felt edgy in the draft.

“Either everybody’s struggling with it, or for us in the 1 car and the 42 car (Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson), the drafting stability was compromised quite a bit,” Busch said. “I didn’t even check the overall lap times, but by itself, the car felt slower, and in the draft it feels faster.”

CAN DANIEL SUAREZ TRANSLATE PRACTICE SPEED INTO SUNDAY PERFORMANCE?

For the fourth time in three weeks, Daniel Suarez had the fastest car in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice session.

In Friday’s opening practice for Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Suarez topped the speed chart at 188.882 mph.

Though he previously led two practices at Charlotte and one at Pocono, those efforts didn’t translate in results on Sunday afternoon. Suarez finished 18th in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in late May and eighth in last Sunday’s Pocono 400.

“Our cars have been very fast,” Suarez said after Friday’s first practice session. “The problem that we have had in the last month is that we haven’t been able to race that way. We have fast cars—there is no doubt. We just have to be able to transfer that into the race and that means having a good car for traffic and having a good car in the draft and all those different situations.

“I feel like everyone has been working hard and making gains. It is always fun to be the fastest in practice, but we know that isn’t the most important part. It shows we have speed, but now we need to transfer that into the race. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend.”

Suarez also explained his current contract situation with Stewart-Haas Racing, indicating that both he and the team have renewal options after the 2019 season. Suarez came to SHR this year after two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, where he lost his ride to make room for Martin Truex Jr.

“I feel very confident in where we are,” said Suarez, who was fourth fastest in Happy Hour and quickest in 10 consecutive lap average. “We have options on both sides, which is good. I have an option, they have an option, and I feel that is the best way to do things, especially when you have a lot of unknowns at the beginning of the year. We know where we are at and what we can do. We haven’t won races—that was my goal, but nobody has on the team.

“It isn’t like I am the only one not winning races like it was the last (two) years. It’s a way different situation. I feel like, when we move forward, we move forward together. I don’t feel like I am the guy that is struggling of the group. I feel like we are going to be in good shape. I feel like I am in a good home with Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford Performance and everyone in this group. I’m not really worried. I feel confident about it.

“But I will tell you that I felt confident about it as well last year and you saw what happened. You never know in this sport. I don’t like talking about it until it is 110-percent secure. The sport is at a point where anything can happen. What I can control is this weekend. I have to do my thing this weekend and try to win races. I feel like the rest will take care of itself.”

CLINT BOWYER LOOKING FORWARD TO “LAKE TIME” — IF FLOODING PERMITS

During next week’s break in the monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Clint Bowyer is looking forward to spending time at his house on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

But the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is concerned about the natural disasters that have hit the Midwest and have affected more than a few people he knows.

“Flooding is affecting everything,” Bowyer said on Friday at Michigan International Speedway. “These people are getting beat up in the Midwest bad. Whether it is tornadoes or flooding, whatever the case may be. It is literally a text or phone call every single day of people that you know. Farmer friends that got their crop in the ground and then it flooded out.

“My dad sent me a picture yesterday of one of my buddies’ freight trucks buried, I mean buried in the mud right in the middle of the field. It’s sad what everybody is going through. Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City), I saw a picture of that, and it’s back under water for the second time this year.

“Hopefully they get some relief and some sunlight, and hopefully we will be enjoying the lake. Everything is backed up. The lakes, the retention, literally everything is backed up big time, and they need relief in a big way.”

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