KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – It’s difficult not to think of Kurt Busch when talking about Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. 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.
In 27 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at the high-banked, short track, Busch has earned five victories, seven top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. This weekend, Busch would like nothing more than to return to his winning ways at Bristol in Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race.
Busch’s success at Bristol started early in his career. In fact, Busch scored his first career Sprint Cup Series 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 ever to record his first win.
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 once again 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. After he took the checkered flag, Busch climbed from his car, laid on the snow-covered concrete oval and channeled his inner-child – moving his legs and arms back and forth to create a snow angel right there on the track.
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 his 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 speaks for itself. He continues to be considered a favorite for a win at the track that is famously dominated by fast-paced beating, banging, gouging, door-to-door action. Earlier this season at Bristol, in his first start at the track with SHR, Busch led 28 laps and appeared to be headed for a solid finish before being collected in an unavoidable incident on lap 394, which relegated him to a 35th-place finish.
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 give Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation team valuable bonus points as they prepare for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The No. 41 team officially clinched a berth in the 2014 Chase this past weekend, thanks to their win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March. A win at Bristol this weekend also would move Busch ahead of the four other single-race winners of the 2014 season thus far. The 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point total reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase. A second win would enable Busch to jump from 12th to eighth in the Chase standings.
With the Chase just four races away, Busch and the Haas Automation team are determined to find their way back to victory lane, and there’s no better place to start than this weekend at Bristol. After all, the team’s one win this season came at another short track, and Busch’s success at Bristol is hard to beat. Busch feels it’s time to add another win to his already impressive Bristol highlight reel.
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 that 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 and one in the night race. Talk about heading to Bristol.
“I love to attack the track at Bristol. The track 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 important tasks of the weekend is getting the splitter control set properly on the Haas Automation Chevrolet this time around if we want to be better than we were in the spring.”
You clinched your 2014 Chase berth Sunday at Michigan. However, there are three open spots left for first-time winners to fill. Do you think you’ll see guys race more aggressively going for a win, maybe more so than in years past since we’re coming so close to the cutoff?
“Oh yeah. Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond – the short tracks lead to opportunities for others that haven’t been on the cutting edge of the setups this year. So, you could easily see a surprise winner coming out of Bristol Saturday night.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine