Wherever Kurt Busch goes, success follows.
After two decades on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup tour, the 40-year-old Las Vegas native has amassed 30 wins and the 2004 championship.
Versatility has been the key to his longevity in the sport—a trait his father Tom instilled in both Kurt and brother Kyle Busch early in their careers.
“The first step was definitely what my father Tom gave Kyle and I for racing knowledge and then for the race cars themselves," Busch said. "Like we raced a Dwarf car and a Legend car back-to-back. We would be on an asphalt track one night, and we would be on a dirt track the next. Then there would be times at the little bullring in Las Vegas—the three-eighths-mile—where we ran a Legends car, an IMCA modified and a Late Model all in the same night and literally be in the trophy dash and heat for all three divisions—the main event for all three divisions.
“In 1996, we won the track championship in all three divisions. That definitely comes from how my dad taught Kyle and I to be versatile and able to adapt to any car you get in at any moment.”
Busch enjoyed a meteoric rise in the five years that followed. He won the 1999 Southwest Tour championship. Jack Roush recruited Busch to race a truck in 2000. The rookie finished second to Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle and impressed management enough to land a ride in Cup for the 2001 season. In 2004, Busch won the Cup title.
Busch’s Cup victories have come with three different teams—Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing--on 15 of the current 24 tracks.
One of his most remarkable runs, however, came with the underfunded Phoenix Racing at Sonoma Raceway in 2012. Busch started eighth and led two laps before finishing third. That same year, however, Busch scored the only Xfinity Series wins for James Finch at Daytona in July as well as Kyle Busch Motorsports at Richmond. Busch’s victory for his brother remains the only Xfinity trophy in the KBM shop.
Busch has qualified for the Playoffs with the above-mentioned organizations and Furniture Row Racing. He currently sits eighth in the Cup standings and is on target for his 13th appearance in the Playoffs.
“As I’ve moved from different teams and gone through different phases of my NASCAR career, I’ve gained more confidence in myself and more knowledge,” Busch said. “But you have to continue to evolve. As soon as you’re complacent, the sport will pass you up.
“That has given me the key, I think, to be able to adapt to different teams and to find speed right away whether it’s a Michigan practice, a Bristol win, you name it. It’s still a matter of adapting to what the car is asking for, the tire and then never being closed out to what a new engineer or crew member can teach you.”
Certainly, Busch is a quick study behind the wheel whether he’s dabbling in hot rods, sports cars or IndyCar—where he won rookie honors after finishing sixth in his 2014 Indianapolis 500 debut.
“That’s what has made any race over the years, like Race of Champions, a blast to be a part of,” Busch said. “To drive any of their cars and to go against some of the world’s best and to try to beat them.”
For now, Busch’s immediate challenge remains in NASCAR. But his decision to join Chip Ganassi Racing was dictated in part the variety of racing options within the Gannassi organization.
“Chip being a racer’s racer. It all made sense," Busch said.
But the veteran also felt he could make a difference within the organization. After the first 15 races, the No. 1 team is 11 positions higher in the standings than last year, when Jamie McMurray was behind the wheel.
“I went in there with no preconceived notion on the Camaro or what everybody went through in 2018,” Busch said. “Matt McCall (crew chief), I believe is the reason for the success of the 1 car, because he’s been there for so long, salivating for that chance. When I connected with him in the off-season at dinner, I think he felt it right away that we weren’t there to ride around or celebrate an eighth-place finish. We were there to compete, to win and to beat the best of the best.”
Despite the dramatic changes to this year’s Cup cars, Busch has not been as critical of the new engine and aero packages as some of his peers. He actually seemed elated by his second-place finish at Michigan—although the outcome could have been different had Erik Jones not triggered a caution with five laps remaining in the race.
While Busch credits McCall’s leadership, the driver/crew chief relationship is just one part of the equation as to whether he’ll stay the course with the team.
“It’s a portion of the equation,” Busch said. “Sponsorship is key, the manufacturer, the stability and the contracts all around us with crew members. There are quite a few factors and key things that will bring us all together again. I would say, there’s no reason to think that there needs to be a change at my level of Matt’s level to keep this thing going.”
This weekend, Busch is joining Team Ganassi for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While that was always the plan, Busch had initially hoped for a getaway week with his wife Ashley.
“We had one of those, ‘Oh crap,’ moments on scheduling,” Busch said. “She thought she was in a wedding this weekend when we raced at Michigan and she’s in the wedding next weekend. I originally planned on her going to France. We were going to go to Paris and spend the first portion of the week there, doing some nice romantic things. We had a few things planned out there and then head to the coast of France—to Normandy—and I’m still going to go on that portion of the trip. But now, it’s turned into more of a boys’ trip with Chip Ganassi.
“I’m actually staying at the track at LeMans, and it has basically turned into a race weekend—except I’m not behind the wheel of a car. But I’ll bring my driver bag just in case.”
Ganassi is fielding two UK teams and two USA teams in the LMGTE Pro Class under the Ford Performance banner. Although Busch doesn’t plan to compete, the event remains on his bucket list. Would he dive in if the opportunity arises?
“Sure, but I don’t think that will come up, unless someone is hurt or has an illness,” Busch said. “All in all, it’s just an opportunity to spend time with Ganassi, with Chip and other parts of his program.I know I’ll have a few hours with him here or there to where we can really dissect what we’ve seen happen on the NASCAR program for the No. 1 car.”