Everyone enjoys the number 21. People who are 20 years old can’t wait to turn 21. Those playing blackjack also love the number 21.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is hoping he can lead nine laps – and hopefully many more – during Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
If he leads nine laps, he will become just the 21stdriver in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history to lead 9,000 laps in his career. Names like Petty, Allison, Earnhardt, Pearson, Gordon, Waltrip and Isaac are on that list.
Busch’s boss, Tony Stewart, is 13thon the list, while one of Busch’s teammates, Kevin Harvick, is 16th.
And there would be no better place for Busch to accomplish the mark than at Bristol.
He’s led 1,062 laps at high-banked, .533-mile oval and has collected five trophies since his rookie year in 2001. His Bristol wins in March 2002 and 2003, August 2003, and March 2004 and 2006 put him one victory behind younger brother Kyle Busch as the winningest active NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Bristol. Kyle Busch has six victories at Bristol.
Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup Series win at Bristol in March 2002. He started 27th and led 89 laps en route to his first victory. It was only his third visit to Thunder Valley, making him the only driver to record his first win at Bristol in fewer than four attempts.
Busch is one of four drivers to win three or more consecutive NASCAR 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, including sweeps in 1981, 1982 and 1983, then a win at the March 1984 race.
Everyone loves the number 21. But Busch is also hoping for number 30 – as in his 30thcareer win.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy 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.”