KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is one of 12 drivers whose championship dreams continue as the field of 16 drivers eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship was trimmed to 12 following Sunday’s 400-mile race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
For Busch, a second championship in NASCAR’s premier series is something that has eluded him for 11 seasons. It’s not that he hasn’t been in contention over the years; it’s just that he’s fallen short of his ultimate goal. While it seems like a long time in a sport in which things happen at 200 mph, NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte owns the record for time between championships, with a total of 12 seasons between his two titles. It just goes to show that Busch’s window is still very much open.
Heading into Saturday night’s 500-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Busch’s focus is on scoring a strong finish to begin building a solid foundation of points in the Round of 12. That is his focus. Once his on-track obligations are complete, however, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion’s focus will shift to a championship contender of another sort, one that is experiencing an even more significant title drought –his beloved Chicago Cubs.
Busch was just a kid in Las Vegas when he adopted Chicago sports teams as his own, and his love for the Cubs hasn’t faded one iota through the years. His support of the Chicago sports teams stems from the fact his parents hail from the Windy City, so it’s only natural for him to support the “hometown” teams.
In 2000, Busch made his first visit to Wrigley Field to watch his Cubs. He readily admits that he got a tear in his eye as he sat in the bleachers and took in the electric atmosphere at the historic ballpark. Since that first visit to Wrigley, Busch has been back to watch his “Cubbies” numerous times.
In 2002, Busch was given the honor of throwing out the first pitch before a game. Since then, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has thrown out the first pitch several other times at Wrigley, and also has led the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
The Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, are established as favorites to finally win another World Series this year and put an end to their long championship drought. For Busch, the joy of finally seeing his beloved team as a champion could only be surpassed by himself finally scoring another championship.
Having scored victories at five of the seven tracks remaining on the schedule – one apiece at Charlotte, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Phoenix International Raceway and at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and twice at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Busch can’t be counted out as a threat for the 2016 championship.
Busch has proven he knows what it takes to get around Charlotte, having claimed the checkered flag in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race. Perhaps, this weekend, he’ll be able to score a second Charlotte win and take another step toward his second Sprint Cup championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What would it mean to win this weekend at Charlotte?
“Charlotte is always a marquee event, I believe, no matter if it’s the spring or the fall. Charlotte is the only night race in the Chase. A lot of bragging rights are on the line because all the race shops are here in Charlotte. It’s just one of those special tracks that is also one of the toughest ones to win on and we race there so often. There’s the All-Star Race and, for guys who aren’t in the All-Star race, there’s the Showdown, and we have the 600-miler, the 500-miler, a lot of laps at Charlotte. It kind of makes you feel like the old-school days that this is your home track and you want to defend it.”
What’s the toughest part about Charlotte?
“The toughest part is always that turn three. If you can get your car to cut properly into turn three, it seems like the racetrack just gives you extra speed. If you struggle in turn three, then that makes for a longer day.”
Do you have to fight the car all night at Charlotte, or do you just take one big swing at it when the sun goes down and dig from there?
“You set it up for the cooler track conditions. It is always faster in October than it is in May. Usually once the sun sets, which is early in this race, then it’s hammer down. It’s like you are running qualifying laps for the whole race.”
How can you run qualifying laps for 500 miles around Charlotte?
“It’s tough the way that the tires build up air pressure, the way that you are out there in traffic, but the grip level of the tires is really good at this track. The banking is high, temperatures are cool, it’s a night race, which is what leads it to the aggressive lap times. It’s not just that we are doing it on our own. It’s that the conditions are providing us that atmosphere.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine