“Blue Moon of Kentucky” is the official bluegrass song of the State of Kentucky. It was written by bluegrass musician Bill Monroe in 1946 and recorded by his band the Blue Grass Boys.
The song has been covered by many artists, including Elvis Presley, Patsy Klein and Paul McCartney and, in 2003, the song was added to the United State Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
Perhaps the most famous – or infamous – version of the song was in the 1987 smash hit movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Steve Martin, playing Neal Page, and the late John Candy, playing Del Griffith, sang it in tune while they were driving a burned-out and roofless car in Illinois, headed to Chicago for Thanksgiving.
What does all this have to do with Kurt Busch and Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta? Nothing, but anytime a Del Griffith reference can be made, it’s good for copy.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is hoping his car will stay in much better shape than the one Page and Griffith were driving in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
There have only been seven NASCAR Cup Series races at Kentucky since the series made its inaugural trip to the 1.5-mile oval in 2011. Busch, while winless at Kentucky, has knocked down a top-five finish, four top-10s and led a total of 51 laps. His average start is 12.0 and his average finish is 12.9.
Busch’s best Kentucky performance came in 2016, when he qualified third and led once for 10 laps before finishing fourth. The third-place qualifying effort equaled his best at Kentucky, first earned in the inaugural Cup Series race in 2011. And his fourth-place finish was his best at the track, topping his previous best of sixth secured in the 2013 race.
That fourth-place finish allowed Busch to check off another stat box on his tenured Cup Series resume, as it gave Busch a top-five at every track on the Cup Series schedule.
And if Busch scores his 30th career victory Saturday night in the Bluegrass state, he’ll have to decide between “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about Kentucky Speedway.
“Kentucky was one of the first tracks to reconfigure their banking along with the new asphalt. They changed turns one and two to add a bunch of banking and then left turns three and four on the lower side of the banking. It just completely changes both ends of the track. SMI (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) is challenging themselves to almost replicate someplace like Darlington, where both ends of the track are very different. It just makes it that much more challenging. I had been going to the track for nearly a decade and it was Kentucky, it was flat on both ends. So you just have to go in with a new mindset. I still think the key is to make sure the car is cutting though turns three and four. You can make a pass coming out of turn four.”
So it’s sort of like Pocono and Darlington, where you’re trying to find the right combination even though both ends of the track are different?
“That’s exactly what it is. The track was designed where you have to dial it in at both ends and you have to compromise. And anytime there is compromise, some teams will have speed in one corner and not in the other. And that will create better opportunities for passing.”
You’ve been in the top-five a lot this year. Do you think a victory is on its way?
“You have to be in position and you have to be able to pounce when others have a miscommunication or a slow pit stop. I mean, the 18 car wasn’t very effective in the first half of the race at Chicago two weeks ago. The second half of the race, whether it was adjustments or the track, came to them, and his pit crew leapfrogged him above other pit crews and he put himself in position. You can’t just expect to win if you’re running fifth with 50 laps to go. You have to execute.”
You’ve been competing at Kentucky since its beginning, running the track’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2000. The track has changed quite a bit even since the NASCAR Cup Series began racing at Kentucky in 2011. What did you think of the place when you first arrived as a Truck Series rookie?
“I went there for the first time when I was racing Trucks. It was an inaugural race and I thought that, since it was the first time anyone went there, that rookies had just as good of a shot to win as veterans. I overdrove that race every ounce I could and ended up wrecking with about 15 laps to go while running in the lead pack. I hit pretty hard. I think that was one of the hardest hits I’ve taken. Kentucky stood up and bit me the first time I was there. And, up until 2011, we never ran a Cup race there, so we used it as a test facility. My time when I was at Roush, I think we were there every other Tuesday making laps. So, I had plenty of laps at Kentucky, but not in race configuration.”