He’s got the Daytona 500 and he’s got the 600-mile race at Charlotte. Now he just needs Darlington and Indianapolis. And Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is ready to try and win another crown jewel event at Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Busch is coming off a win Aug. 18 in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race that solidified his spot in the 16-driver playoffs. It was the 30th victory of his career and he now has earned six trips to victory lane at Bristol.
But before the playoffs begin, Busch would love to make a little history at two of the greatest tracks in the world.
Only four drivers have won the four crown jewels and they are legends of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are the only drivers to see the checkered flag first at the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500.
Busch has had some success at Darlington, including nearly winning the spring race in 2003. In one of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR history, Busch came up .002 of a second shy of victory at the track “Too Tough to Tame” when he was nosed out by Ricky Craven in one of the closest finishes in Cup Series competition since NASCAR instituted electronic timing in 1993.
His No. 41 Haas Automation Ford this weekend will sport a paint scheme that looks very much like the No. 97 Ford Taurus he raced 15 years ago.
Busch added a third-place finish at Darlington in 2010, and he won the pole position in September 2001 and April 2013. If Busch is to be successful this weekend, he’ll have to battle the odd shape of Darlington’s racing oval.
Darlington is egg-shaped, 1.366 miles in length – the odd shape because its western half needed a tighter radius in the turns as founder Harold Brasington promised Sherman Ramsey, who owned a farm next to the property, that he wouldn’t disturb his minnow pond when he built the track in 1949.
The odd shape also means that, to find the fast way around the track, drivers run against the outside walls in each turn, sometimes brushing up against the wall and thus earning what has affectionately become known as a “Darlington Stripe” on the right side of the car. And the black marks left on the walls by the tires rubbing up against them all race weekend have led to the track’s other nickname, “The Lady in Black.”
Busch is hoping he can get a little stripe on his car on the road to victory, and to get another of the four crown jewels of NASCAR.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What would a win at Darlington mean?
“I’ve been close and it would mean the world to me because, when I first went there, I had no idea how difficult that track was going to be. And how narrow it is and how different both ends of the track are. Over the years, I quickly gained an appreciation for the nostalgia and the setting of Darlington, South Carolina and what it means for our sport. With all that mixed in together, I’d love to win that race. It’s a tough track because it changes dramatically with rubber and you have to have tire management there. You have to balance a lot of things over 500 miles.”
Are these 500 miles at Darlington the most difficult in all of NASCAR?
“Yeah, it’s flat out the most difficult. I think 500 miles at Darlington is tougher than 600 miles at Charlotte because you are up on the wheel all race long and you’re right on the edge and, when you slip over that edge, you get that Darlington stripe and usually you get a fender rub and then you’re working out of a hole. Attrition usually wipes out a few guys and you don’t want to be one of those, and so you’re just right on that edge all night long.”
What makes Darlington unique?
“Darlington demands so much attention and respect. It’s similar to a Bristol like that. It’s hard to get the setup perfect because both ends of the racetrack are so different.”
What do you think of the retro feel of Darlington?
“It’s really a fun weekend. It feels like a field trip experience when you’re a kid. It’s like when you go out with your friends and you all get dressed up together. The first year, it was about the cars. The second year, it seemed like the crew guys took over and they had all their outfits. There are diecasts that are made just for that race. Chip Wile (former president of Darlington) hit a grand slam with throwback weekend and I think all of us look forward to that. And I think the fans do, as well. It definitely helps bridge the past to the present and overall just creates a fun weekend.”
Do you remember your first race at Darlington? Your first stripe?
“My first race and first stripe – that place chewed me up and spit me out. I think I wrecked 20 times, kept bouncing off wall. I wore out the tires but kept going. I probably finished 40th my first time there. It really was an eye-opener on how tough NASCAR was going to be.”
Other than the finish with Ricky Craven at Darlington, do you have any other memorable moments that stand out?
“The biggest moment at Darlington I ever had was finishing second to Ricky Craven in 2003 – everyone knows that race. It’s one of the best finishes in NASCAR history. But, probably the next-biggest moment would be during my championship run in 2004. I had an ill-handling car and still managed to finish sixth with it due to good pit stops. That was a perfect moment because it was our championship to lose, with where we finished that day in 2004. That was back when Darlington used to be in the playoffs.”