No playoff fight can begin without there being just the slightest of thoughts about the driver who won the first NASCAR Cup Series title under the sport’s new format – even if 2004 seems so long ago now.
For those who can’t remember, it was Kurt Busch conquering the first very edition of the playoffs. This year is Busch’s 13th postseason appearance, and admittedly, he imagined he’d have added a second title to his resume by now.
“But again, it’s a matter of piecing it all together and putting yourself in position to have a shot at the championship, and it’s not a given,” Busch said. “It’s not a guarantee. There are those good years where you have plenty of speed in the car, but it might be this other weakness; maybe pit road or not quite having the horsepower you need. It’s an amazing balance of chemistry to piece it all together and have those shots at championships, and, man, you can say that it comes once every five years or once every four years, but it’s a matter of just piecing it all together.”
The good news is that Busch spoke with confidence that his Chip Ganassi Racing team can indeed put it all together.
“With the clarity and the heart and the drive of this No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy team, this is one of the strongest years, I feel, going into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s been a long time (since winning his first), but you’ve got to piece it all together and put yourself in position.”
Busch moved to CGR this year, pairing with veteran crew chief Matt McCall. While the team got off to a hot start with seven top-10 finishes in the first ten weeks, it took until Kentucky Speedway in July to score their first win. All year though, Busch has been top 10 in points and competing like a contender.
Both Busch and teammate Kyle Larson are championship eligible, although Larson was unable to find victory lane in the regular season. He did, however, win the non-point All-Star Race. For Busch, not only has he helped elevate the No. 1 Chevrolet team back into title status, he’s been succeeding, as hoped, with his new organization.
“I feel like everybody’s goal at the beginning of the year is to be a race winner, multiple race wins,” Busch said. “We haven’t quite done that yet, but again, we use these first 26 races on the 1 car to grow as a team and to build that chemistry; to win races, to lose races, and to build us up to get to this point.
“I feel like we’re in that spot that we wanted to be. So now, it’s a matter of executing through these 10 weeks and being consistent. I like where we are. Early in the year, we exceeded expectations, and now we’ve just got to get to that consistency level to surprise people as we move through the playoffs.”