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Kurt Busch Says He Is Going Straight In 2011

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 25 2011

Kurt Busch will foray into the NHRA Pro Stock ranks in 2011. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

When Kurt Busch goes “double-dipping”  this season, he won’t be concerned with NASCAR’s new single-series point rules.

Busch is going NHRA drag racing in a “Factory Hot Rod.”

NASCAR’s 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, Busch announced Monday he plans to make his NHRA Full Throttle Series debut during the 41st annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, March 11-13, at historic Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

Busch will be competing for one of 16 qualifying spots in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class in the Shell Dodge Avenger for series regular Allen Johnson and J & J Racing.

“Pro Stock is the tightest pro category as far as the elapsed time is concerned, and it’s not going to be an easy task,” Busch, 32, said in a statement distributed by NHRA.  “I feel me teaming up with Allen Johnson and the MOPAR folks, we’ve given ourselves the best opportunity to make the show.”

Busch spent a good part of his offseason testing with Johnson, earning his NHRA Pro Stock license with an impressive quarter-mile pass of 6.576-seconds at 210.43 mph at Bradenton, Fla. As a matter of reference – understanding conditions are not identical – former Pro Stock world champion Mike Edwards was No. 1 qualifier at the 2010 Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals with a 6.537-second pass at 211.53 mph in his Pontiac GXP; Rickie Jones was on the bump at 6.601/209.10. Busch’s 6.576-second ET would have qualified him 11th.

Busch got the idea of competing in an NHRA event after participating in the opening night of racing at mogul O. Bruton Smith’s state-of-the-sport zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., in September 2008. When Busch arrives for the Gators, he will be faced with four qualifying passes – two on Friday and two on Saturday – setting the 16-car field for Sunday’s finals.

Pro Stock cars are similar in appearance to their showroom counterparts but feature extensive engine modifications, sophisticated chassis and suspension. The cars are limited to a maximum 500 cubic-inch displacement engine.  On average, a Pro Stock car will cover the quarter-mile in 6.5-seconds with a speed of more than 200 mph.

“It’s a whole different world than NASCAR,” said Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger fielded by car-owner Roger Penske in Cup. “The toughest part is staging the car and, of course, cutting a good light. The thrill of the launch and the speed at the top-end is why I’m so fascinated with drag racing.  But I do know that heading to the Gatornationals and running with the pros, I will get a full dose of ‘humble pie.’ ”

NASCAR officials announced last week that drivers will be allowed to collect points in only one of its three national touring series – Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck – this season. Aimed at Cup regulars, the change is being implemented to give up-and-coming Nationwide and Truck series drivers a better opportunity to compete for championship honors.

Busch, meanwhile, made his NHRA Sportsman debut last year by competing in the Super Gas

Kurt Busch's new ride. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series).

category during the Gatornationals. Busch drove a rebuilt 1970 Dodge Challenger in Super Gas, part of the NHRA’s Lucas Oil Series.  Weather plagued the event, limiting his track time and contributing to a first-round loss.

Busch bought the Challenger in 2008 and began getting it into race shape in March 2009. The MOPAR is powered by a stroked 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, weighs 3,000 pounds and reportedly cranks out an incredible 1,167 horsepower.  Busch termed the Challenger a “multi-personality car” that is a combination daily-driver built to run NHRA Super Gas, as well as National Muscle Car Association and International Hot Rod Association events.

“The 2010 event was an experience of a lifetime. The camaraderie with the Sportsman guys was a truly fun experience,” Busch said.  “Although it was tough to watch it rain for four days, the grassroots effort of the Sportsman guys is what makes the true heart of NHRA racing.”

A native of Las Vegas, Busch was introduced to drag racing in the early 1990s when he met two Las Vegas-based NHRA racers – George Marnell, a Pro Stock driver, and Dave Bush, a Super Comp competitor.  He also became friends with three-time/reigning NHRA Top Fuel Champion Larry Dixon when both were sponsored by Miller Lite beer.

An innovative Sportsman racing program for Super Stock and Stock class eliminations will be introduced at selected NHRA national events during the 2011 Lucas Oil Series season.

The changes are the result of a review of feedback from the Performance Aftermarket Advisory Council (PAAC) and a majority of NHRA contingency sponsors. The program will feature a 12-race class-eliminations schedule for Super Stock and Stock offering double contingency payouts at four of those events.

A new bonus-points program will be instituted for the eight non-paying class-eliminations events, and season-ending contingency payouts will be awarded to two National Class Performers (stick and automatic divisions) in each category. Finally, to enhance competition in class eliminations, new stick and automatic “combo classes” will be created in Super Stock and Stock to group those classes that are represented by only one car.

“Comp Cams has been a strong supporter of Sportsman racing since the early ’70s,” said Scooter Brothers, chairman-elect, SEMA board of directors, and president of Comp Cams. “Class racing was very different than it is today, and contingency support of class racing was on-track to diminish to the point of extinction.

“For at least a year, the NHRA has worked closely with a group of manufacturers to find a way to save the financial support of class racing. Everyone agreed that the new program would help class racing as we know it survive and even flourish. It should put the pride and competitiveness back into being the class winner, as well as create a program that works for the manufacturers, NHRA and especially the racers.”

Key features of the revised program:

– Class eliminations for Super Stock and Stock will be contested at 12 events _ nine NHRA national events and three in the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals. Trophies will be awarded to each class winner at all 12 events. Contingency payouts will be awarded at only four events _ the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil in Clermont, Ind., and the three JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals races. Payouts at those four events will be a minimum of $100 per posting, double the minimum postings in 2010.

– Bonus points will be awarded during the eight class-eliminations events that do not offer NHRA contingency money. National Class Performer Awards will be presented following the eight-race class-eliminations series to the drivers who earn the most points in one of four class groupings _ Super Stock-Stick, Super Stock-Automatic, Stock-Stick and Stock-Automatic.

Additionally, all Super Stock and Stock class-eliminations participants will be eligible for National Class Performer Awards in one of four groupings. Participants will earn points (10 for each class round-win and an additional five for winning the class-eliminations title) toward the season crown by claiming their best three results from their first five starts in the eight-race non-contingency, paying class-eliminations series.

Each of the four National Class Performer Award winners will earn a special Wally trophy and a minimum of $500 per posting from each contingency sponsor represented on his or her car.

– One significant change to increase the level of competition in class eliminations is creation of “combo classes” in Super Stock and Stock for those classes that are represented by a single car. The four combo classes will be Super Stock Combo-Stick, Super Stock Combo-Automatic, Stock Combo-Stick and Stock Combo-Automatic. Eliminations for the combo classes will utilize a handicap start with no breakout. The car that crosses the finish line first in each combo class-elimination run will be declared the winner.

Only one Wally trophy (and contingency payout at the four eligible events) will be presented to the winner of each of the four combo classes during the 12 class-eliminations events. Those classes in Super Stock and Stock that include two or more cars will continue to have class eliminations conducted as in the past.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 25 2011
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