NASCAR Cup Series
Turmoil to Triumph, Kurt Busch Finally Reigns at Daytona
There has never been any doubt that Kurt Busch is one of NASCAR’s best all-around talents behind the wheel.
The 38-year-old Las Vegas, NV native has won in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series and has won on every track type. However, wherever Busch has gone, it seems personal and professional demons has always followed. Has he always been perfect? No, but who is?
After it all, though, it seems everything is falling into place for Busch, as witnessed with his crowning achievement on Sunday when he captured the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Through perseverance and desire, he has put himself back on the map as a championship contender after years of trials and tribulations.
In 2004, Busch won the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup after winning three races and beating Jimmie Johnson by eight points.
Many thought Busch would be a major threat for the title once again in 2005 after winning three races in the regular season. However, Busch was suspended for the final two races and let go by Roush-Fenway Racing.
Busch found himself at Team Penske at the start of the 2006 season and over his six-year tenure for Penske, he won 10 races and qualified for the Chase in four of those six seasons. Trouble once again found Busch during the season-finale in 2011 as he was involved in an altercation with race reporter Dr. Jerry Punch. Busch was let go by Penske in December of that year.
Stops at Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing followed before making a move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. SHR co-owner Gene Haas saw a chance to add the former Cup Series champion to his stable.
“I tell you, early on, when you look for drivers, some people like to develop their own drivers. We did that a little bit. That’s a difficult way to go.” he said. “I look for a driver that has proven talent. Kurt is already a past champion. He’s won, when I think we started, over 25 races. He definitely had the ability. When we met in a steakhouse in Indianapolis, I just said, ‘Would you be interested in driving for me?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
“It just started from there. It wasn’t really a big leap of faith on my part. I knew he had gone through a little bit of a transition out of Penske. I knew he had the talent to do it. Like I say, I wasn’t interested in points racing, I was interested in winning. I thought he could deliver that. And he has done that. I knew he had the ability to do it. That was really the basis for my decision. It looks like, today, it all paid off.”
Not only did Gene Haas believe in him but Kurt Busch started to believe in himself. Busch has taken steps off the track to help him become better on the track come Sunday. After being placed under investigation for domestic violence in 2014 which led to an indefinite suspension by NASCAR, Busch began to undergo anger management counseling and was eventually reinstated by NASCAR after missing the first three races of the 2015 season. The growth away from the track, including perhaps some maturity if you will, was complimented on-track by the leadership of veteran crew chief Tony Gibson. The Florida native has been instrumental in making Busch a more patient driver behind the wheel.
Busch was asked in his post-race press conference how he has changed not only as a driver but as a person. Busch gave a lot of credit to his wife, Ashley.
“I feel like experience on the track continues to grow, but I was neglecting experience in life. The different circumstances that were happening, I wasn’t learning enough from,” said Busch. “My wife Ashley has helped me digest better feelings towards how to approach situations. It’s like today when the mirror broke with 30 to go. I looked at it. I saw her in it. I’m like, She’s just going to smile. She’s just going to figure it out. I tell you, age and wisdom, they come together. Youth is wasted on the young. I’ve been through some different patches here or there, but to have a team that believes in me, that’s the most important part. To have a wife that believes in me, and a family of course, all the way through all of this.
“Then to be a Monster athlete for the last six years, they’re a sponsor that stuck by my side. We’ve won some good races together. Now we get to toss a Daytona 500 trophy in the lobby in Corona, California, as well as Oxnard, California, with Haas Automation.”
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