Kurt Busch speaking during the dog days of summer 2020:“It’s a different mentality right now with all of this going on. We’ve all had to adjust to all the changing circumstances that we’re all dealing with. It all comes down to adaptability and to not be complacent. All of us have been challenged with this pandemic of no practice and jumping out there for the race and we’ve done well and there has definitely been a thumbs up with how we’ve adapted.”
The 2020 NASCAR season has been a season unlike any other, and one where, as Busch mentioned, adaptability and proactivity have allowed a handful of NASCAR Cup teams to reach for a higher gear. Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing and the outfit’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was a team that stepped up from the moment the Cup season resumed on May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Currently 11th in the NASCAR Cup point standings heading into the Phoenix finale, it’s been an encouraging year for the 21-year NASCAR veteran, who pushed the Ganassi team to a race win, seven top fives and 19 top 10s during a year where most teams and drivers struggled.
Q: Just what has kept you going for 21 years? As time has gone by, you’ve seemed to enjoy the sport and being at the races more and more.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it is about the community and the people and the fun of the travel. Also, just the coaching and the mentorship that I’m able to provide at this point in my career – I feel like I’ve transitioned over into an elder statesman. Maybe I’m not as wise with what could be certain situations, but it’s fun to give to the younger engineers and mechanics and help them with their careers and what they have going. I’ve also been able to do some commentating on the Truck series races, and the level of depth of talent presented there is just amazing to me. You see some of these young guys and what they’re doing as far as new trends out on the track and who can be the face of NASCAR as we transition into this next decade, and it’s that point in my career where you see some of the talent and you want to coach them and give them the right pointers to steer them in the right direction.
Q: Can NASCAR excel during this digital age we are in?
KB: Oh yeah, and we have tons of current technology that really isn’t seen by the general fan. There is all this data that we share between all the race teams. We have ghost cars and imagery, we have the racing lines and I can literally pull up the data on my little brother Kyle’s car who races for a different team. I can check his steering and throttle and brake traces. There is the technology for qualifying laps to shorten up the track the most to get the lap time advanced. There’s tons of technology that’s out there and that maybe isn’t shown in the right light, I guess. Behind the scenes, man, there is so much technology and simulation models involved with building and racing these cars. With no practice and no testing anymore, there is so much now that is going into all the simulation that the engineers are running. I mean, they will literally run 10,000 laps on a Saturday night before a race just to find out all the right set-up data that the team will need for Sunday’s race.
Q: What has 2020 meant to Kurt Busch the racer?
KB: You know, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of what we’ve all had to go through with the switching around of the schedule, not having practice and not having qualifying. I think the key thing was and has been adaptability, and having a smile on your face knowing that you don’t know what’s around the next corner and things are going to change. We’ve been racing on Sundays, we’ve been racing on Wednesdays, we’ve been racing on Thursdays; NASCAR did an incredible job with the schedule and getting us back on track, and to get our playoffs back on a regularly scheduled sequence.
For us on the Chip Ganassi team to have won a race and to have consistently been in the top 10 more this year than last, we’ve advanced the program and now those seventh places finishes… We used to celebrate those types of seventh place finishes and now it’s like, “Man, we know we want more!” And that’s what we’ve got to do in 2021. We need to continue to perfect the little things that will help us get to victory lane more often, so I’m happy and I’m satisfied with this year. It was a good year. It wasn’t excellent, but we had a good season together considering all of the circumstances we’ve been up against.
Q: You’ve had 35 starts, run 10,846 laps and led 813 of them at Phoenix. Do you like the place and can you pull of a win on Sunday?
KB: Phoenix is like my second home. I’ve raced there a ton in the Southwest Tour series and the Truck series there as well, so it’s like my second home versus Vegas, and it’s just one of those fun tracks that’s been kind to me over the years. I believe I have my most laps led at that track. It’s just one of those tracks that I enjoy going to and maybe we can be the spoiler on the Championship 4 weekend.
Q: There’s been some chatter in the stock car media about your retirement looming. Any truth to the talk?
KB: Well, I‘m going to push and push and push for 2021 to be a great year and I don’t know what will come of 2022, but I’m a racer. I love to race. There are some bucket list races that I want to go out and accomplish outside of NASCAR, so whether it’s a full-time schedule, a part-time schedule and roaming around and doing different races around the world, I’m hoping that the world is in a more restful and peaceful place by the end of 2021. We’ll see how things play out.