KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – To say that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is willing to race anything, any time, any place would be no exaggeration.
He has competed in several historic racing events, including the 2014 Indianapolis 500, where he claimed Rookie of the Year honors after finishing sixth. He’s twice competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – in 2005 and 2008. He’s even tried drag racing, making his NHRA debut in 2011 at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
Busch headed to Italy for the three-day Monza Rally in November 2015. It was the first time the 37-year-old driver competed in a Rally car and, had it not been for a flat right-front tire with three laps remaining in the fifth stage, he felt he could have brought home a respectable finish. Then, he headed to Northern California, where he competed in the National Auto Sport Association 25 Hours of Thunderhill, North America’s longest endurance race, where his team finished fourth in the E0 Class.
Busch represented Team USA just a few weeks later, heading to Barbados for the annual Race of Champions, where he joined Robby Gordon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Team USA was eliminated in the quarterfinals, but Hunter-Reay took two victories and Busch one.
So, while many drivers enjoyed a little rest and relaxation last weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took a rare weekend off, it was no surprise that Busch’s love for all things motorsports saw him head overseas to Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan, where the Las Vegas native took a bit of a break from competition to play the role of spectator, attending the Formula One race as a guest of Gene Haas and Haas F1 Team.
Now Busch is ready to return his focus to the Monster Energy/Haas Automation team and Sunday’s Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, a racetrack where Busch has found victory lane once before. In 2011, Busch dominated at Sonoma by leading 76 of 110 laps and crossing the finish line 2.685 seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Gordon to score his first Sprint Cup road-course victory. The win was not, however, his first on a road course in one of NASCAR’s top touring series. Busch had visited victory lane twice in Xfinity Series competition at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, scoring wins at that legendary road course in 2006 and 2011.
While Busch would not consider himself a road-racing ace, he has developed a solid skill set for the tracks that feature both left- and right-hand turns. Busch is hoping to add to his already impressive Sonoma resume by scoring his second win of the season in this weekend’s 110-lap event. Having already found victory lane in 2016 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway earlier this month, winning this weekend at Sonoma would show the depth of the team and its ability to win at a variety of racetracks.
Busch and the Monster Energy/Haas Automation team have little to worry about in terms of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. They can head to Sonoma feeling less pressure and welcome the opportunity to race aggressively for additional wins. The 28-time Sprint Cup race winner will look to earn additional points for the postseason as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their points total reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about racing at Sonoma.
“Sonoma will be fun this year. A new tire, lower downforce, we are already sliding around out there a ton. This will definitely challenge the teams to build a quality car that all the fat has to be trimmed off. You are trying to run it as light weight as possible to not chew up the tires. It will be a tough race this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that one plays out. I’ll be headed there after the off week, which I spent enjoying some time in the Middle East with Haas F1.”
What is the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about racing at Sonoma?
“Sonoma has always been a sentimental favorite to me – I think that track helped put me on the map when I won there in a Southwest Tour race in 1999. The garage area sometimes grumbles when we go to road courses. I think that mentality has changed. Everybody has to accept that road courses are part of the NASCAR culture. There are the few who still think Sonoma is a tough track and they don’t find it quite as appealing as Watkins Glen. For me, I grew up racing there, so it’s easy for me to see it as part of the NASCAR culture.”
How did you learn to drive on a road course?
“It might sound odd, but I learned to road-course race by driving a Legends car. That was big in the mid-’90s in the Desert Southwest and they would let us run on the infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as well as the exterior road course there. We also raced road-course races at Buttonwillow, they had a street-course race at Los Angeles, and they raced up in Sonoma. I was just kind of thrown into the fire with road-course racing, but I loved it from the first time I jumped on track.”
What do you like about road-course racing?
“I just like the rhythm. I like how you use one corner to help you in the next corner. You have to be thinking three corners ahead, sometimes. Plus, it’s a compromise on the setup. You’re never going to be perfect on all the corners, so you have to shoot for the middle in all of them.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine