“I wish I had all the answers,” said Kurt Busch during one of the many dog days of NASCAR summer 2018 when asked what he had going for 2019. “I love the way that Monster Energy has supported me over the years in NASCAR. They’ve told me that they’re with me and we’re going to go to a competitive top-tier team in 2019. That’s where I’m at with all this. I’m hoping it works out.”
It did. As announced earlier this week, Kurt Busch will climb into Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet come the drop of the green at Daytona in February. A former Cup champion, Daytona 500 winner and That’s NASCAR Entertainment fixture (for good and bad), we spoke with Busch from his winter house in West Palm Beach, Florida where he and wife Ashley were putting in some time on her polo horses and soaking up the sun.
Not sure if Richard Petty did it this way, but Busch, as we’ve all come to learn, has his own way of doing things.
Q: There’s been an impressive reaction to your move Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019…
KB: Yeah, I think it went great. There has been a lot of support and enthusiasm from the fans about the switch. To have Monster Energy and to get the No. 1 car was a cool branding moment, but at the end of the day it’s about performance, and as Chip Ganassi said to me, “Kurt, I want you. I want you, as a champion, to come over to this team.” And the Stewart-Hass Racing offer that I got for ’19 wasn’t all that exciting, and we bounced. We made the move. I’m really looking forward to working with, what I believe, is a future champion in Kyle Larson, and using my experience to get these cars dialed in.
Q: Do you and Kyle know one another at all?
KB: A little bit. On-track experience has been solid with the respect that he has shown me, and the times that I’ve helped him on-track have been, I think, solid. Now it is time to get together outside the track simply to just share a beer, and get together and hang out and tell some war stories.
Q: You’re a NASCAR Cup champion and Kyle is a potential champion. With all the collective racing wisdom and experience you’ve accumulated from a 20-year career, I would think that could be quite helpful to Kyle as well as the entire Ganassi race effort.
KB: I agree 100 precent, and for me, it was one of the reasons to make a change and move away from SHR. After 20 years in the sport I’m not necessarily passing the torch, but at least they can utilize the experience that I have to maybe teach somebody that is willing to learn about it. At SHR they’ve got a great group of drivers that have experience, but this is a unique opportunity. There are also some IndyCar aspirations and some sports car aspirations that I have. The way that Ganassi just welcomed me in with open arms, it made a lot of sense.
Q: As the summer burned off and you were somewhat undecided as to where you might race in 2019, did you come to a fork in the road? It could have been SHR, it could have been Ganassi, it could have been Formula E…
KB: Yeah, I’ve been at the pros and cons intersection before. I’d stay with the team or I’d leave the team, and this time around it was 99 percent pro-Ganassi when it came down to it, and so that’s how I looked forward. The decision was made pretty early this year, and once we got all the little stuff settled… man, I was running for a championship at SHR, and Chip Ganassi said, “You know, while you’re still championship-eligible, we’ll just hold off on the announcement.” So that’s why it took a little bit, I looked at it like, “Man, we need to go big. We need to go with some fun and flashy announcement when we do switch.” Literally, my first day available to work for Chip Ganassi contractually was on December 1st,and that’s why we launched now.
Q: Did you know Chip previously? Obviously you know him from walking through the paddock, but has there been any sort of relationship?
KB: Just in crossing paths. Whether it was sports car stuff when I raced in the Rolex, or the time that I spent at Indianapolis running IndyCar, Chip and I always had that genuine smile and handshake when we saw each other. Then, there is Felix Sabates, who is a part-owner of the team. I’ve known him over the last 15 years and we go to dinner and tell war stories together. It’s neat to jump in there. Felix was telling me he was almost ready to retire, and I was like, “Come on! No! Let’s keep the band together and let’s go after it. We’re going to have some fun next year.”
Q: You’re back to Chevrolet in 2019. What did you make of the Cup teams running Chevy in ’18?
KB: I feel like right out of the box that Chevrolet struggled, and then they made gains throughout the year, and Kyle Larson was the fastest car at Darlington for the Southern 500. They didn’t quite execute on pit road to win that race. Yes, there were a few moments of speed, but what we need to have is tons more moments of speed to be in position to pick up the wins. I think that’s what everybody at Ganassi wants to do, and what everybody at Chevrolet wants to do.
Q: After 20 years of all of this, you have to start all over again. You good with that?
KB: As fast as [how] the contract came together with Chip Ganassi, that’s all the motivation I needed. He wanted me. There was a forward-thinking process through this. I mean I literally got some seats in cars yesterday, and in my mindset, I felt like it was February 1st. I feel like Daytona is going to be next week, and let’s go after this. There is no lack of motivation from me.
Q: Will ’19 be the end of the line of Kurt Busch’s storied Cup career?
KB: I’m all-in on this next year. We’re coming out of the gate gangbusters. I told Chip this in a joking fashion, and he upgraded the contract – I said, “If we come out of the gate gangbusters and win five races by Daytona in July, we’ll keep digging long-term.” Chip said, “If you do that, you’re definitely in!” I don’t know what the future holds. There are plenty of cool options ahead, and right now the focus is centered on Cup, and trying to get as many wins as we can, and have a shot at the championship again next year. From there, we’ll see what the future brings us.