I’ve been watching NASCAR for 20 years. Kurt Busch has been my favourite driver the whole time. To understand how I picked him to root for, you have to understand how I discovered the sport of NASCAR in the first place. In the extremely late 90s I had one of the NASCAR computer games. As a ten year old it was great fun to go around the track backwards and smash into the other cars. It was a video game, they weren’t real, nobody was getting hurt. Then I clue in that if I go the same direction as the other cars I can win the race. For whatever reason, Bristol was the easiest track to move people out of the way and keep my track position in the game. (There’s a connection later, I promise).
Fast forward to the 2001 season. I’m still playing the video games, not realizing that there are seasons and this sport is real, and actually on TV. Not realizing that there was a guy out there racing like I did in the video games. By now I was going in the right direction.
Depending on which other driver you were, ahem, Jimmy Spencer most notably, this would set the tone for much of Kurt’s early career. But I didn’t know that because I was not watching yet. I was still playing the computer games thinking the whole sport was a fantasy. I had heard something on the radio on the bus to school one February morning that a guy named Dale had died in a race car, but I hadn’t connected that to NASCAR in my brain at the time. As for Kurt’s little incident with Dale, Kurt would indeed become number one…but with a more friendly finger.
Fast forward again to a cold November Sunday afternoon. I’m channel surfing. Suddenly I stumble across cars going around a track. I’m recognizing some of the names from the video game. This thing is actually real and it turns out they race pretty much every Sunday (and some Saturday nights as I would find out later). I didn’t have a confirmed favourite right away.
Bobby Labonte would win at Homestead and Jeff Gordon had enough points to clinch the championship with one race left. (I had no idea there was points or a championship. I was new). Kurt Busch would finish a solid 23rd. (Way better than I could ever finish).
Then came the substitute weekend for the Loudon, N.H. race because of the September 11th things that had happened when they were supposed to be there. I waited all week and managed to catch the end of that race too. Robby Gordon would win and Kurt Busch would finish 21st. During the Mike Joy and the gang announce the day of the Daytona 500, and more importantly, the start time! (I had never watched an entire race from start to finish). 12:30pmET (1:30pm for me) on February 17, 2002.
The off season passes. On a snowy day in 2002, I find myself in front of the TV at the right time to see one of these races actually fire off. The Daytona 500. It’s a big deal. Dad comes in the room and we watch the whole thing together. Dad decides to go for Dale Jarrett right away. I am undecided. I could go for Dale Earnhardt Jr. like everyone else. However, there was a cool looking black and blue Rubbermaid / Sharpie sponsored car. Who doesn’t like having places to put things? Not to mention markers to label those bins. Not to mention the guy driving it finished 4th. A few weeks later at Bristol, Kurt moved Jimmy Spencer ever so slightly out of the way to get underneath him and pass for the win. A move similar to what I would do in the video games. It was super relatable.
Well, that was it. Kurt was going to be the guy I would go for. I was all in and I got my first, of what would be many, Kurt Busch hats. Turns out I had picked a solid band wagon to jump on to. Kurt managed 4 wins on the season. Lots to be excited about. There was one notable time that Jimmy Spencer wrecked Kurt for what seemed like no reason at all. At Indianapolis, theiy’re just going along and then Jimmy turns Kurt hard into the wall for no reason. Or that’s what it seemed like to me. I remember hoping they would be able to work things out. Kurt would finish third in the points standings at the end of the year. Big things were yet to come.
In 2003 THIS happened…
It was the closest finish in NASCAR history. Whether you were first or second, you were still a part of it. Also, the issues between Kurt and Jimmy Spencer were sorted out…more or less…
In 2004 the thing every racer wants happened for Kurt. He became a champion at the top level of his chosen racing discipline. It came down to a three wheeled drive down pit road to do it. The luckiest tire incident in racing history.
2005 saw all five Roush Racing cars in contention for the championship. Kurt has a habit of making the entire team better and that season was proof of that. At season’s end, Kurt switched teams to Penske racing, and I got a new hat.
2006 through 2010 saw Kurt driving one of the icon cars of the sport. The #2 Miller Lite Dodge. These were productive years. Including two chances in a row at winning the Daytona 500. One where he pushed his teammate Ryan Newman across the line in a 1-2 finish in 2008.
Kurt also won the Coca Cola 600 in this car. As well as that Bristol race where it snowed the day before. The short lived victory celebration of doing snow angels materialized.
2011 was the expansion of Penske Racing from a two car team to a three car team with Kurt Busch bringing a new identity to the team in the #22 Shell Penzoil Dodge. This meant another hat for me.
Kurt was fast right out of the gate. Winning the 2011 Bud Shootout, the pole for the Daytona 500, but not the race itself. Not yet anyway.
It was also the season that I saw my first race live in the seats. My dad and grandpa and I all made the trip down to Loudon, since it was the track that was closest to us. None of the pictures I took are worthy of posting on here, but it was fun trying to see if any would come out. Kurt qualified 5th and finished….lower, but it was a great weekend trip. I got this hat at the track.
Turns out that by season’s end, Kurt would be off to the James Finch owned #51 Chevy to make them better. The 2012 season saw Kurt give the underfunded team a 3rd place finish at Sonoma. And THAT was really cool. A small team on a road course. They could hang their heads high all year. Also the fact that I found this hat at a small mall kiosk in a nowhere town was a feat.
I saw Kurt race at Pocono that year. The one where it rained a lot.
2013 saw Kurt move up the ladder again having a solid season with Furniture Row racing. Kurt had a solid season and made a run in the playoffs, catching the eye of Gene Haas who wanted to make a dream team in 2014 consisting of Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, and Kurt Busch. The momentum for this super team all started at Furniture Row.
Kurt would race for Stewart Haas from 2014 through 2018 notching 6 wins for them, my favourite being the battle with Brad Keselowski at Martinsville. It was all about who wanted it more, and in the end that person was Kurt Busch. A comeback win if there ever was one. This was also the year Kurt tried the Double. He finished 6th in the Indianapolis 500 which is super cool for someone who has never raced those cars before.
In 2015 I went to a race at Charlotte. Not just a race, it was the Coca Cola 600 and it was cool to be able to tour some of the race shops there, including SHR. I took a bunch of blurry pictures of race cars all weekend. Even the ones in the race shops were blurry. Couldn’t tell you why. It was still great.
2017 brought Kurt his Daytona 500 win. A fantastic slice through the field, and a pretty sick outside pass for the lead, with no mirror for the last thirty laps, to take home the biggest single race prize the sport has to offer. So much fun to see on TV as there had been so many chances before.
Winning the 2018 Bristol night race was also a classic Kurt Busch thing to do. When the setup was right, he and that track could get along just fine.
In 2019 Kurt would switch to Chip Ganassi Racing in their #1 Monster Energy car. I also happened to see Kurt race at Pocono that year. It was interesting, you could tell who the Kurt fans were right away, because we were all wearing the same shirt. Denny Hamlin would win that race. As I get up to make my way down the stairs, I hear a voice behind me. “It’s not over!” It was one of the Kurt fans who saw me leaving. Apparently we were all sitting in the same section. At this moment Kurt comes across the line and I hear “NOW it’s over!” We made our way down the grandstand stairs.
How could I forget this Kentucky finish? Kurt came from 4th to beat his brother to the line, video game style. And then this happened…
After a couple seasons it was time for Kurt to move on again. This time bringing his talents to 21XI racing. Scoring a win at Kansas in May and giving them a shot at the championship. It’s as much as any team can hope for. I don’t have a #45 hat for this section…yet.
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. It seemed like it flew by. All those Sundays wondering what sorts of interesting things would happen next on the track. Thanks for all the memories. Looking forward to what happens next.