The folks who cover and follow NASCAR are of course talking about the “Big Three.” Kevin Harvick has seven victories, Kyle Busch has six wins and Martin Truex Jr., has four checkered flags.
They make up the top-three in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points. But fourth on the list is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
Busch has 14 top-10 finishes and has been in the top-10 in points for 18 consecutive weeks, his longest such stretch since 2016. But he has yet to score a victory this year.
Fortunately for Busch, the night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is next on the schedule.
Busch has five wins, 10 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s at the .533-mile concrete oval and has led 1,062 laps in 35 career starts there.
He scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Bristol in March 2002. He started 27th and led 89 laps en route to that maiden victory. It was only his third visit to the fast, high-banked oval, making him the only driver to record his first win at Bristol in fewer than four attempts.
His five career Bristol wins – March 2002 and 2003, August 2003, March 2004 and 2006 – is second best among active NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Bristol behind his younger brother Kyle Busch, who has seven wins there.
The elder Busch brother even completed a Bristol Cup Series sweep in 2003, winning both the spring and fall events. He started ninth and led 116 laps in March while starting fifth and leading 121 laps in August. In March 2004, Busch went on to record his third consecutive win at Bristol when he started 13th and led 119 laps on his way to victory lane.
He is one of four drivers to win three or more consecutive Cup Series races at Bristol. Fred Lorenzen won three in a row starting with the fall race in 1963, followed by a sweep of both 1964 events. Cale Yarborough won four in a row with sweeps in 1976 and 1977. Darrell Waltrip won seven in a row, with sweeps in 1981, 1982 and 1983, then a win at the March 1984 race.
Busch has led laps in 15 of his 35 career Cup Series starts at Bristol and he has led more than 100 laps four times, including three consecutive races – 116 in March 2003, 121 in August 2003, and 119 in March 2004. He’s hoping that Bristol will be his first win of the 2018 season with the playoffs just around the corner.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about Bristol Motor Speedway – you’ve won there five times.
“I don’t know what it is about the track. My first couple times there, I was blown away by the speed and intensity of it. When I went back in the spring of 2002, everything slowed down and it was like I had a perfect manual on how to get around there. That was all brought to me by Jimmy Fenning (former crew chief from Roush-Fenway Racing). He really helped calm me down and told me the different points to look for. The biggest key is knowing when to run hard and when not to run hard. If you try to run hard every single lap, you’re not going to make it. There are certain points in the race when you run hard and there are certain points when you’re not necessarily cruising, but just trying to maintain the right pace. You go hard, and then you save a little bit and then you go hard again because you saved a little bit. It’s a matter of applying it at the right time.”
And changes to Bristol since you starting running there in 2002? You have driven everything there.
“I haven’t won since they put in the transition banking, the way it goes from the low groove to the high groove. They ground the high groove and that seemed to backfire on what they were trying to accomplish. The outside groove is now the preferred groove. When it heats up with rubber, it’s like glue. But you have to wait for it. You have to wait for that rubber to get warm and grab the tires. In the end, though, it’s still the same characteristics of Bristol. Lap times are still in the 15-second range. The races I’ve won there, we were maintaining good lap times throughout the 100-lap run. And that’s still what it takes to win at Bristol.”
What do you like about how to approach a Bristol race?
“I like how you can attack the track in certain situations. And then you have to cruise in other situations. You always have to know your surroundings at Bristol. When someone is on your rear bumper, or if you are really trying to pressure somebody hard, is there a reason to be doing that? You have to be one with the track and then just digest where the other cars are around you.”