Not only is Kurt Busch’s desire for a second Cup Series championship as strong as ever, but in barely missing the Championship 4 last season, he’s sure another title isn’t out of reach.
“Everything is close, and you have to master this system of how you gain the stage points and collect those bonus points to take with you through the playoffs,” Busch said earlier this week. “We were in position for it, and that’s what I expect to see this year. We need to capitalize on some of the small mistakes that I made or that the team doesn’t need to make, to have a shot at the championship.
“The drive is stronger than ever. I feel like I’ve accomplished plenty of different things throughout the sport, but I have goals set for this year that will lead to a championship-type of run.”
Those goals? Checking all the necessary boxes. Last year one of Busch’s strengths was bagging points in Stage 1, which he hopes to duplicate this season. By Busch’s logic, gaining points in Stage 1 means a team doesn’t have to focus as hard on them in Stage 2, instead shifting focus to the run to the checkered flag.
The rest of the list is also easier said than done. Busch wants more poles (he had five last year), win more races (there was only Bristol last summer), and then get through the playoffs. Success in the final 10 races will take bonus points. Busch was eliminated in the penultimate round last year when he crashed out late at ISM Raceway after leading 52 laps.
Busch’s first title came in what was also the first season NASCAR went to a playoff format. But the 2004 season seems so long ago as Busch now enters his 19th full season in the premier series. Chasing his second title will come with a different team and manufacturer now that Busch has moved to Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet.
If Busch were to capture a second championship, it would feel just as good as the first. But the big difference from the Kurt Busch of 2004 to Kurt Busch of 2019 will be how much more a title would mean.
“I know that when I won my first championship, I was very young and somewhat naive to everything that goes on in our sport of Monster Energy Cup Series racing,” Busch said. “Team, pit crew, the engineering, the design; there is so much I took for granted. Then there is so much that’s changed nowadays, and I feel like I’m in a very good position and I feel like Chip Ganassi is in a very good position. There’s also the fun that we’re going to have along the way of [Kyle] Larson, our pit crew, and the way that we’re going to come together as a team.
“I enjoy helping people learn at this stage of my career, and that can’t overshadow me from stopping learning. I have to continue to lean as well, and that’s what teaming up with [crew chief] Matt McCall is going to help me to do again this year.”