KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – There’s just something about the Chicago sports scene that Kurt Busch loves.
The driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) is an unabashed fan of the Chicago Cubs. He has an unwavering loyalty to the Chicago Bears.
Busch was just a kid in Las Vegas when he adopted the Chicago sports teams as his own, and his love for the Bears and 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 its “hometown” teams.
In 2000, Busch made his first visit to Wrigley Field to watch his beloved Cubs. Busch 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 for the first time. That first time on the mound at Wrigley Field, Busch did everything he could to savor the moment. As he tells it, he stood on the mound and actually shook off the sign from the catcher – wanting to prolong the moment and soak in his surroundings for as long as possible. When he finally did make the pitch, Busch says he “threw it right down the pipe with heat.”
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.
He’ll add to his list of Wrigley Field experiences Monday as he will don a photographer’s vest at the stadium and join the photographers who cover his “home team” each and every game.
It doesn’t matter how many times Busch has the opportunity to visit Wrigley Field, each time, he relishes every moment.
This weekend, Busch will become part of the Chicago sports scene he loves so much as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois for the MyAFibStory.com 400– the first of 10 races in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Busch qualified for the Chase via his March win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He’ll start the Chase 10th in points. This is Busch’s second consecutive Chase appearance and eighth overall. He won the championship in his Chase debut in 2004, then finished 10th in 2005, seventh in 2007, fourth in 2009, 11th in 2010 and 2011, and 10th in 2013.
In 13 Sprint Cup Series starts at Chicagoland, Busch has one top-five and seven top-10 finishes. His best finish at the 1.5-mile track was a fourth-place effort last season.
With five top-13 finishes in the past six races, including a seventh-place effort last weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Busch and his No. 41 Haas Automation team are riding a wave of momentum into Sunday’s race at Chicagoland.
While Busch has long supported the Chicago sports teams as his own, the No. 41 Haas Automation team may just have its own “home-field” advantage this weekend at Chicagoland. With the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago this week – the largest manufacturing technology show in the Western Hemisphere – Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World owned by SHR founder and co-owner Gene Haas, will play host to more than 500 customers at an event in the city and more than 375 at the race.
Busch, who has cheered for the Chicago teams throughout his life, hopes to give the Chicago crowd and the Haas Automation customers something to cheer about this weekend. There’s nothing he would like more than to get the first win of the Chase and continue his quest for his second Sprint Cup championship.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Stewart-Haas Racing tested at Chicagoland Speedway in preparation for the Chase. Talk a little bit about that.
“I hope we are able to take advantage of the test and not fall behind on that first practice session (Friday). That has been some of the trouble this year and we have played a little bit of catch-up after the first Friday practice. Now, with a test session used at Chicago, a test session used at Loudon, we have to apply that knowledge the right way and make these finishes count because that is what the Chase is all about. I’m really proud of this team and congratulations to SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) for putting two out of four cars in the Chase.”
What have your previous races at Chicago been like for you?
“Chicago is a fast, mile-and-a-half track I have always enjoyed racing since I started racing there in my rookie season. The track isn’t as smooth as it used to be – it has some bumps in it – but it’s a place I like. It is another one of those tracks, though, where I just haven’t had the best of luck. An example is the 2002 race. We had a really fast car for that race but, for some reason after the last pit stop, the car just wasn’t handling the same as it had been. We were just way too tight and really couldn’t figure out why. When we got back to the shop and started going over the car, we realized that the radiator pan had come off and that’s like 100 pounds of front downforce. We were going so fast that the car bottomed out and dragged the radiator pan out. It’s just weird stuff like that.”
You obviously have an affinity for the city of Chicago and its sports teams.
“My fondness for Chicago has been well documented over the years. It’s my kind of town. I’m a diehard Chicago sports fan – I’ve always loved the Cubs and the Bears in both good and bad times. I am hoping my fondness for Chicago will rub off at Chicagoland Speedway and I’ll have a breakthrough race there on Sunday afternoon. I finally got my first top-five there last year. For us to do well in the Chase, we’ll have to master the 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland since there are five of them in the Chase.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine