Sunday, February 14, 2021 will mark the 63rd running of the storied Daytona 500. The afternoon will also mark the 721st career NASCAR start for Kurt Busch.
With two decades-plus of experience inside the roll cage of a Cup car, Busch’s wisdom, acumen talent made Ganassi’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 a competitor everywhere it rolled beneath a green flag in 2020, with 19 top 10 finishes. But to his way of seeing things, that was then, and preparation for the 2021 Daytona 500 is now.
Q: The 2021 Daytona 500 is creeping up fast. How are you feeling about things?
KURT BUSCH: I’m good, but this [pandemic] is certainly challenging everybody everywhere. You can’t get too far ahead, you can’t look too far ahead. For me, I’m lucky I have the NASCAR industry and they’re pushing through this, and we have races coming up, and I’m in a privileged situation to have a job and to be able to go to work. It’s all very different. With the race team, we don’t have all of our meetings in person anymore. It’s all these damn Zoom calls. What’s cool is that when the whole thing started and everybody was going bonkers with Zoom calls and when the links didn’t work and all the awkwardness of it, now when you go on and click the Zoom link, it works. Everybody is at the meetings on time. We bang it out and we’re done. That’s progress. It really is progress.
Q: I’ve been fortunate enough to do these preseason interviews with you for over 20 years now, and I can tell you’re as enthused to go racing as ever.
KB: Yeah, I think as a professional athlete right now and to be a racer in motorsports… it is a privilege to have a job and to be looking forward to the new racing season. Every year that I’ve gone into racing, January 1 is race mode and I start working out and working on nutrition, because my body is not getting any younger, so I have to find new things that will help me out. My wife has been an incredible assist with all that.
Still, I’m going out there and pushing hard and lifting weights and going for runs. Race season is right around the corner, man, and I’m ready. You know, this year and with everything now trying to find its normalcy, what I’ve done, mentally, is just prepare myself to find those small victories, such as Zoom calls, Skype calls, Microsoft Teams, whatever it may be. It was all awkward at the beginning stages of 2020, and now as of late, it’s like, boom! We’re on the meetings, we’re off the meetings and we’re moving on, and the efficiency that I’m seeing out of everybody right now motivates me. It puts a smile on my face, and it helps put smiles on other people’s faces, too.
Q: So you’ve been in extremely close communication with crew chief Matt McCall and the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 team?
KB: Absolutely. We’ve done quite a few of those digital meetings and now we are setting up simulation events, such as we will actually do some events through our iRacing equipment with other drivers, and we’ll also go to the big Chevrolet simulator in Charlotte, North Carolina and do some mock practice sessions, mock race restarts and also just simple pit road sequences. That way we are as ready to rip for Daytona as possible.
Q: In the past year, there has been chatter about the reality that you’re now in the twilight of your career. You’ve spoken about how much you care about the entire NASCAR community and the encouraging camaraderie within it. A big topic for you now, isn’t it?
KB: It is to me! It’s about giving back at this stage, and I’ve got a great opportunity with a young rookie teammate in Ross Chastain. I mean, he’s not really a rookie, but it’s his first full-time gig with a big-time team. And to be a mentor to him, I like the challenge, and so far it has been great to give back to him. The sooner we get Ross up to speed at Chip Ganassi Racing, the more success the whole NASCAR program will have.
Q: It seems from the outside that the Kurt Busch and Chip Ganassi relationship has been something of a match made in heaven.
KB: It is. It’s a perfect situation for me to be where I am in the sport and with the competitiveness and the desire to race for a guy like Chip, he matches me really well. He’s an older guy. He’s been around the block. He knows when something is B.S. or not. It was cool. The other day he had all of his drivers meet up down in Sebring, Florida for a preseason test for his IndyCar and IMSA program, and I’m down in Florida during the off-season and I just drove over and picked up Ross Chastain along the way at his watermelon farm. We went over and saw all the guys at Sebring. This is what it’s all about. We’re figuring it out in how to still be together in person. We had a dinner outside where everybody was spread out at the tables. It was really cool. You could feel the spirit of everybody there and that’s the motivation we sense resonating through the whole building and all the buildings at Chip Ganassi Racing to get this 2021 season underway.
Q: How do you think 2021 will be for you and the No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro team?
KB: We’re at our peak right now. This our third year together. The car stayed primarily the same from last year. That will help us polish up and really define where our strengths were, where our weaknesses were, and I LOVE all the schedule changes. A lot of road courses, dirt at Bristol, and again, just adjusting on the fly. Right now without much practice, you’ve got to hit the right things when you hit the race track for the first time. If those settings aren’t there, you’ve still got to work hard during the race and during the actual event and gather up all the speed and points that you can. Then there are going to be those days where the car is dialed-in perfect and you have to capitalize on that.
Q: You’re signed for 2021. There has been talk about you racing again in 2022. How long do you want to go for?
KB: Well, number one, I miss the race fans. It’s very different at our race tracks without our fans. I dearly miss them and the interaction and the pre-race and the post-race. I mean, heck, when you drive into an event now, there is nobody there motor homing and tail gating and building bonfires. It’s weird! It’s not the true heart of NASCAR. We’re going to have and go find that through the camera lens. The viewers are tuning in and that’s what’s awesome. They’re watching, and of course they are supporting us. Also, social media is now more important. We’re still rolling with it. Also, this whole process with the Next Gen car was delayed, and I’m intrigued by that car. I’ve tested it three times. NASCAR asked me to come back and do a confirmation test, which I was very humbled by. I’m intrigued! Man, I want to race it! I want to race it soon, because I’m a racer and I love motorsports and I’ve been in the sport a long enough to where, what the heck is a new car? I want to go try and conquer it.
So we’ll see what the future brings. Nothing is lined up for 2022, but we’re kicking off 2021 right now and we’re full steam ahead.
Q: You’re a fan of the sport. You’re a student of the sport. You love the sport. To you’re way of seeing things, where is NASCAR going?
KB: NASCAR has the agenda right in front of them and it is to protect and honor the long-term fans, and it’s to generate new fans. You have all of these different avenues to head down and to conquer. I’m a car guy and I’ve always been that way. I would love to help in areas that I can. I even saw media people working during our preseason media campaign to get all of the digital imagery and to get the driver photo shoots all lined up for new media. What I’m getting to with all of this is that we’re trying to cover more areas and trying to appeal to more demographics all over the place. Whether it is young or old, male or female, different countries, NASCAR is just trying to go in all directions right now and I think that’s what you’re seeing with a lot of these schedule changes.
Q: What will make you happy in 2021?
KB: We were close in 2020, and we’ve got to get to that Championship 4. We’ve got to get a championship berth here on the line and we do that by turning more top 10s into top fives, and more top fives into multiple wins and be better at the tracks that we struggled at last year. That way we have more opportunities to win and to gain those points.