KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – When thinking about drivers capable of contending for the victory Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, it would be difficult to overlook Kurt Busch. Over the years, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has crafted quite the highlight reel when it comes to racing and conquering the .533-mile concrete oval. Coupled with his strong start to the 2015 season, Busch certainly has to be considered a favorite heading into Sunday’s Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer.
In 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at the high-banked short track, Busch has earned five victories, eight top-five finishes and 15 top-10s. With a fifth-place finish in the Irwin Tools Night Race last August, and two top-five finishes in four starts this season, Busch appears ready to add another win to his already impressive Bristol highlight reel and equally impressive year-to-date statistics.
Busch’s success at Bristol started early in his career. In fact, Busch scored his first career Sprint Cup win in the Food City 500 in March 2002. The win came in just his third start at Bristol, making him the driver with the fewest starts at the Tennessee short track to record his first win there.
After a sixth-place finish later that season in the 2002 Bristol night race, Busch reeled off three consecutive wins at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” – sweeping both races at the track in 2003 and also winning the March race in 2004. Two years later, in March 2006, Busch returned to victory lane for his fifth Bristol win. In that race, Busch came back from two laps down and led 33 laps en route to victory on a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon.
Busch’s five career victories at Bristol place him in a four-way tie for third on the all-time winner’s list at the track. The group of drivers ahead of Busch on that list is an elite group featuring former champions and drivers who already have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Former champion and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip tops the all-time list with 12 career Bristol wins. Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough is in a three-way tie for second on the list with former Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace and the late Dale Earnhardt with nine wins each. Hall of Famer David Pearson, Jeff Gordon and brother Kyle Busch share third-place honors on the win list with five apiece. Additionally, the five wins each by the Busch brothers and Gordon top all active drivers.
While the Las Vegas native hasn’t visited victory lane at Bristol since 2006, his success at the track continues to speak for itself. He continues to be favorite for a Bristol win with each visit to the track that is famously dominated by fast-paced, door-to-door action.
This weekend, Busch would like nothing more than to add another win to his already impressive stats at Bristol. Not only would a win move him ahead of Pearson, Gordon and Kyle Busch and put him all by himself in third place on the all-time win list at the track, it would also virtually lock Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation team into the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With the 16-driver Sprint Cup championship format, scoring a win virtually guarantees a driver and his team a berth in the Chase, provided they are among the top-30 in driver points.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is there a sense of excitement for you when you think about Bristol?
“Yes. Bristol is one of those tracks that I get a little extra pumped up for. For me, I think that feeling gets a little stronger when you’re talking about the night race at Bristol. There’s just something special about that race. I knew it before I ever made it to the big-league level of the Sprint Cup Series but, the first time I was able to experience the night race as a competitor, it’s almost indescribable. It’s a place that gives you a big adrenaline rush. You can literally feel the energy around the track from the competitors and the fans who are just excited for 500 laps of racing at Bristol. There’s really nothing quite like it.”
With the way Bristol has been the last few years, what has been the most difficult part?
“For me, the most challenging aspect is getting into those long, green-flag runs. It’s about being able to settle into a steady groove and making the best lap times you can. It’s tough at that place because it’s so fast for a short track and you can get dizzy there pretty quickly. It’s a physical track but it’s also mentally taxing, and you really have to be on your game when it comes to the concentration that is required to run well at Bristol.”
You earned your first Sprint Cup win at Bristol. You’ve got four wins in the spring race there and one in the night race. Talk about heading to Bristol.
“Bristol really seems to fit my driving style. Ever since they polished the outside groove, you have to wait for it to come in. But when it comes in, it’s fast up there. So, I expect a lot of the fast cars to be up there on the high side. One of the most important tasks of the weekend will be getting the splitter control set properly.”
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