Chase hopefuls Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman had to walk out of Pocono Raceway with solid results, and both of them came through as Busch finished third and Newman finished fourth after his Brickyard 400 triumph last weekend at Indianapolis.
Busch’s third-place run was his fifth Top-5 and ninth Top-10 of the campaign, which both mark single-season records for the single-car Furniture Row Racing team. It could serve as a springboard for something bigger next weekend on the road course at Watkins Glen, where Busch tested last Monday.
“We ran up front and put ourselves in position to win,” Busch said about his day. “It’s exciting for us because we are in this mix of trying to race our way into the Chase. There’s a number of teams within striking distance of making the Chase. It’s very competitive out there and you have to do it with top-five finishes like this.
“No one is going to back into the Chase, you’re going to have to earn it.”
Busch, who has yet to win this year, sits 13th in the standings at just 11 points out of 10th-place Greg Biffle. As for Newman, he now has the second Wild Card holder, Martin Truex Jr., directly in front of him after Pocono.
Truex finished 15th on Sunday, but dropped two spots to 14th in the championship and is now just nine points ahead of Newman. Both of them have one regular season win, but Newman seemed to feel he could’ve been in contention for a second one today if not for pit road issues.
“It’s a good run – not as good as it could have been,” said Newman. “We struggled in the pits today but overall, a good effort. Racing a lot of the guys around us [in the standings], it’s where it’s important to get the victory.
“…We have a win and we are fighting for a Top 10 or Wild Card spot, but nonetheless, it was a good effort. Just a horrible day in the pits for us. We have to get that figured out.”
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.