The first time Kurt Busch raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, he won. It was July 8, 2000 and Busch was a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Wheeling a Ford F-150 and coming off his first career win the week before at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisconsin, Busch qualified fifth at New Hampshire and then led the final 35 laps around the 1.058-mile oval to earn his first Granite State victory and his second Truck Series win in a row.
Busch only spent one season in the Truck Series before jumping to the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. At just 22 years old, Busch entered the 2001 season as a rookie competing with the best drivers in the world. He didn’t make it to victory lane that year, but moments of brilliance flashed, including a pole-winning effort at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and a fifth-place finish in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
When Busch came back to New Hampshire in 2002 as a sophomore in the NASCAR Cup Series, he knocked down an eighth-place finish in July and followed it up with a second-place effort when the series returned in September. It was the beginning of what has become an exemplary Cup Series record at New Hampshire.
The now 39-year-old has three wins, two second-place finishes, seven top-threes, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and has led a total of 541 laps in his 32 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 11.8, his average finish is 15.8 and his lap completion rate is 96 percent.
Busch’s three NASCAR Cup Series wins at New Hampshire ties him for the most among active drivers, joining Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.
And while every win is cherished, those first two New Hampshire triumphs carry significant importance.
The year was 2004, which any New Englander who knows the names Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone remembers vividly. That’s because it was the year the Boston Red Sox finally vanquished the Curse of the Bambino, winning its first World Series since 1918 by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. Well before this October Classic of All Classics, Busch swept the NASCAR Cup Series’ races at New Hampshire in 2004. He overcame a 32nd-place qualifying effort in July to lead twice for 110 laps en route to his first win Cup Series win at the track. His second win came in September when he led three times for a race-high 155 laps. Busch went on to win the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Coincidence? We think not.
When Busch won at New Hampshire in September 2004, he became the first driver to win a race in NASCAR’s playoffs. The victory placed Busch in a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for first place in the championship standings. Busch also became one of only two drivers to have swept the slate of NASCAR Cup Series races at New Hampshire. The other is Johnson, who swept the pair of Cup Series races in 2003.
Busch’s most recent win at New Hampshire came in July 2008 when he won the rain-shortened NASCAR Cup Series race. He only led 10 laps, but they were the final 10 of the 284-lap contest.
Busch has captured the magic of the Magic Mile before, and as the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion returns to New Hampshire after back-to-back DNFs (Did Not Finish) at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, he’s looking to recapture that magic.
With a win in the season-opening Daytona 500, along with two top-fives and eight top-10s in the 18 races prior to the Overton’s 301 on Sunday, Busch is plenty capable of earning a fourth victory at New Hampshire to solidify his playoff standing and take sole possession of having the most New Hampshire wins among active drivers.
With the Red Sox back in first place in its division, Busch looks to take a page from 2004 and grab another first-place trophy in New England on Sunday.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your record at New Hampshire is pretty stout. Why is that?
“It’s a track that has been pretty good to me since I started racing in the top series of this sport. I raced there for the first time in the Truck Series and won that race. Then, it’s a track where I have three wins in the Cup cars and, when you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you confidence. Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”
Are the challenges at New Hampshire the same as always, or does the track change over the years?
“It seems like it has changed a little bit toward the end of the race with a lot of aggressive restarts. That is when you gain positions, or it’s easy to lose positions. Everybody is out there elbows out, pushing hard, and you hope to not have trouble.”
What do you need your car to do really well at New Hampshire to have a chance to win?
“It’s got to be able to cut in the center of the corner, cut underneath guys, look to get to that bottom lane and drive up off the corner and get side-by-side with guys. That way you have position on corner exit.”
With New Hampshire being a tight and flat one-mile oval, it has some short-track characteristics in that there’s close racing and sometimes contact is made. If you inadvertently get into someone, do you try to right that wrong so it doesn’t come back to bite you later?
“It depends upon the circumstances, but yes. Usually, you’re trying to keep your eye on the main prize, which is victory lane at the end of the day. If you have a run-in early on in the race, that guy is going to be trying to find you or you’re looking over your shoulder. So if you can sort of hit a reset button and right a mistake, you do that, but not at the expense of taking yourself out of position for the win.”