Kurt Busch grew up racing on the short tracks and bull rings around his home in Las Vegas, and he dreamed of one day racing on the big Las Vegas Motor Speedway being built in his hometown.
The 1.5-mile track opened to great fanfare in 1998, and three years later, Kurt Busch got his chance when he was promoted to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2001 by Roush Fenway Racing.
But for the next 20 years, Busch’s dream of winning in front of his hometown fans went unfulfilled as he continuously struggled on his home track. In 21 starts, he had never won at LVMS and was wildly inconsistent, scoring just three top-five finishes and six top-10s at the track.
Then, suddenly, all that changed last September when Kurt Busch finally took the checkered flag at Las Vegas, where NASCAR will return this weekend. Fittingly, luck played a role in his Las Vegas win as Busch took the lead when a caution flag came out with him leading during green-flag pit stops. Busch took advantage of the opportunity, leading 29 of the final 34 laps and holding off Matt DiBenedetto on an overtime restart.
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The win on his home track was a huge relief for Kurt Busch.
“Las Vegas Motor Speedway had been a thorn in my side over the years,” Kurt Busch said. “I left there every year more and more displeased and frustrated. Sometimes you don’t win at a track. Daytona took me 17 years to win the 500. I felt differently leaving Daytona. I know it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. It will happen. Vegas, I don’t think it is ever going to happen. Vegas was that tough on me. It was an emotional tie of growing up there and having all my friends and family and people there, rooting me on, and just not being able to get the job done just felt weird.”
Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup Series champion, now has 32 Cup victories, but his career has been a rocky road. He won 14 races from 2002-05, but was fired by both Roush and Team Penske for multiple emotional outbursts and unacceptable behavior. He spent two winless seasons with underfunded Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing before earning a second chance with Stewart-Haas and then Chip Ganassi.
Kurt Busch, 43, has won at least one race in seven straight seasons and has made the NASCAR playoffs eight years in a row. But he calls his win at Las Vegas during last year’s playoffs one of the biggest of his career.
“It was really a spiritual moment of winning last September in the playoffs at the South Point 400, and then not having fans and having people at the race track,” Kurt Busch said. “I missed them and it was like boom, they zoomed in on me and we all celebrated through the TV lens. So, it was just a pretty big moment for me last year and I was just happy to win for Ganassi and to help us advance through the playoffs. It was a very impactful win last year.”
Kurt Busch off to strong start in 2021
Kurt Busch has gotten off to a solid start this season despite being involved in wrecks in both races at Daytona. He rallied to finish fourth on the Daytona Road Course and finished eighth last week at Homestead. He is sixth in points after three races.
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Kurt Busch has a win in each of his two seasons with Ganassi but has had to fight hard to make the playoffs and crack the top 10. He has finished 13th and 10th in the standings the last two years.
Kurt Busch likes the parity he has seen in the series so far this season and believes that favors his No. 1 Chevrolet team.
“I’m enjoying the start of the season and watching different guys lead laps, passing different guys, different guys are passing me; it’s a very unique time right now,” Kurt Busch said. “… We’ve got everything going for us right now. You don’t see a clear advantage for anybody.”
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Despite three upsets in three races this season, Kurt Busch believes the cream will still rise to the top in the playoff race. Despite wins by Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and William Byron, perennial contenders Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano lead the points standings, while Busch trails 2020 champion Chase Elliott.
Kurt Busch believes his Ganassi team is improving and expects to be in the playoffs again this season.
“A quality team like ours, we have to be in the playoffs. We know we will,” Kurt Busch said. “The important thing for us is to stick to our strength and that’s to gain points, methodically, through the stages of each race, with race finishes, and if we’ve got the chance to gamble for a win at the end, we of course need to grab it. But right now, I think we’re only like four points out of being third overall with the wreck at Daytona. So, we’ve just got to keep chiseling away at getting our points built up. Then that will give us more options to do things.”