Kurt Busch thought that for a while, his final season in NASCAR would be the 2018 one. See, Busch’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing was up at seasons end and talks between the two for another deal for the future wasn’t going well. Then, he called up Chip Ganassi and all the speculation on his future was over. Busch, knew where he wanted to end his NASCAR career at.
Now, he’s back in victory lane with a team that hasn’t won in 64 races. It only took Busch 19 races to get them back in the winners circle.
The Las Vegas native had a thrilling battle with his little brother on the final restart of Saturday night’s Quaker State 400, one in which Kurt held off Kyle by the closest margin of victory in the history of the Kentucky Speedway.
Kurt Busch narrowly beats his brother Kyle Busch in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway
It was a fitting ending for how last week’s race went. See, in Daytona, Busch was leading under caution before lightning, then later rain, ended the race early. Unfortunately, Busch and his crew chief Matt McCall decided to hit pit lane the lap before the restart – one that NASCAR said was going to take place. The problem is, no one looked at the weather to see that it was close to Daytona Beach. Busch pit, but the race went red right after. They’d never go back green.
If Busch didn’t pit, he would have won the Coke Zero Sugar 400. Instead, he punted it away. Six days later, they made up for it and went to victory lane at Kentucky.
It was a race win that Busch says is a proud accomplishment for himself personally for a number of reasons – one of which was for Ganassi to show him the respect to feel “wanted” again.
“Yeah, whether you’re knocked down or whether it’s a lateral move or whether it was an upgrade, you can look at it in many different ways,” said Busch on his move from SHR to Ganassi this offseason. “When the contract was struggling at SHR to come together, I called Chip Ganassi, and it took 30 minutes, and it was done. And away we went. To me that meant respect. It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.
“They’ve won races in the past. Kyle Larson is a tremendous talent. But again, it takes all the little pieces, and I felt like Ganassi was the right move for me, and Monster Energy says, you know what, we’ll roll with you, but our motto is we’ve got to win. We’ve got to be up front. We’ve got to be making noise. We’ve got to be partying. We’ve got to be having fun. We’re going to get all that done as we move forward here in the second half of the year.”
Kurt Busch and his team celebrate after winning Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway
The win wasn’t about just what Ganassi did for Busch, it’s what Busch did for Ganassi took. See, the last time this organization had been to victory lane was in the 2017 regular season finale in Richmond. That was with the 42 car. The car Busch was driving hadn’t won a race since 2013. There’s a lot of guys on that team that haven’t tasted victory in nearly six years. Others, McCall included, have never won before.
Busch, brought with him 30 career wins and a 2004 championship to Ganassi. He knows how to win and what it takes to get there. His wisdom led this team back to victory on Saturday night.
“A lot of good first wins with this group of guys,” Busch said of his team. ” I’m really proud of them. You know, the way that we came together early and had speed, we just weren’t completing all the little steps that it took to be a winner in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Now we’re all winners.”
“It’s awesome. Just to get back to Victory Lane for the first time with a new team means the world to me. But with all these guys, there’s so many that got their first win tonight, and they put me in position. A fast car, we had lap time, and we got a nice lucky break to get a shot at it with that yellow at the end. It takes teamwork all the way through, and thanks to Chevrolet, Monster Energy, Gear Wrench, Global Poker. These guys are winners, I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“For me with my wife Ashley and watching her play polo and her professional athlete side of her, the power of positivity is something she’s taught me over these few years. You come in and you talk a game and you deliver it, and you do it with execution through team meetings, showing up early, staying late, and motivating guys to do a better job.
“And the way that I’ve won races in the past, I try to go after the weakness of a team and try to fix that first and then start to make things better as we go.
“But I’m the guy that gets to hold the steering wheel and go 200 miles an hour. I get the name recognition and all that, but this is a team effort. Matt McCall, when I first met him, I knew he could be a winner, and he’s a winner now in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Tons of guys on this team, it’s their first win.
“There was a guy that is our car chief that I was with at Furniture Row when we were running up front but never winning. It’s like, I know we can win with this group, and now here we’ve done it. But it’s thanks to Chip Ganassi’s commitment with Felix Sabates and Rob Kauffman, our ownership. They’re in it to win it, and now we’re winners, let’s grab another gear, though. Let’s try to get this thing where the second half is one of those phenomenal years.”
McCall, has the same respect back for Busch and it was a message that Busch delivered this past offseason to what has resonated so well with this group.
“This is what you work every day for,” McCall said of this win. “A lot of hours, but got a wheel man now. Yeah, he came in and that was the goal from the very beginning. I think he has a lot of credentials, right, so when he starts talking he tells you we’re coming in, we’re going to win, it’s definitely a confidence booster for sure. He’s almost delivered and he delivered today, so it’s been pretty fun this first half of the season.”
Nothing against Jamie McMurray, but this car just didn’t deliver the results that they were capable of prior. Since 2011, this car had one win, 24 top five finishes and 76 top 10’s. Over their last few years, McMurray had seven top fives and 36 top 10’s.
Busch meanwhile, has five top five finishes and 11 top 10’s in just 19 races this season. He’s also led more laps (80) in 2019 than McMurray led in his last four seasons at the helm.