He’s the longest-tenured wheelman in the NASCAR Cup Series and one victory away from matching the legendary Fireball Roberts on the all-time win list at 33. His name is Kurt Busch and he’s 42 years old, has 202,323 Cup laps to his name, has won the Cup Series championship (2004) and is a Daytona 500 winner (2017). Sunday, Kurt will climb into the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Chip Ganassi Racing and make a go of trying to win The Great American Race for the second time. And he’s got a pretty damn good shot at it. Currently slotted-in at 20/1 by the BetOnline oddsmakers, that’ll be the grid spot Busch starts from.
Coming off a Daytona Duel in which he placed ninth despite a small electrical hiccup in the run-up to the green flag, Busch is relaxed, confident and ready.
Q: Kurt, you’re listed at 20/1 odds to win the Daytona 500. That’s seems like a pretty good, respectable number, but you can’t really plan or look into a crystal ball at this place, can you?
KURT BUSCH: Well, you have to do all you can to prepare. Yes, the odds are picked because of trends. There are favorites and there are dark horses, but there is a lot of this race that is out of your control, mainly towards the end. Again, it comes back down to building the best car possible, executing as a team, making smart decisions as a driver, and those are what make your odds turn in your favor. Yes, Lady Luck is very important. It’s not the ultimate deciding factor, but you also have to have her on your side if you’re going to pull into victory lane in Daytona.
Q: NASCAR first raced here in 1959 before 41,000 fans. Due to COVID mandates, that’s about how many fans will be here this Sunday. I know you’re both a big fan and student of both NASCAR and Daytona history. Doesn’t it just knock your block off that Bill France had the vision to build this place in 1959? I mean it’s 62 years later and this place still blows my mind!
KURT BUSCH: Oh, the vision to build such an incredible place back in the 1950s is just amazing. Bill France built this place with the banking because he went to Indianapolis and saw the race up there on a two-and-a-half-mile-track and he was like, “You can’t see anything! The corners are flat! This isn’t very exciting!” So he used that as his inspiration to build Daytona International Speedway and to build it better than Indianapolis. It’s an incredible trioval entertainment complex with the suites and with the grandstands as tall as they are now. They’ve got to be at least 10 stories tall. The place rivals any kind of college football stadium. Mean there are infield suites and infield entertainment areas; there’s victory lane; the place has that full circumference that is just incredible that puts on an incredible show.
Q: Despite the fact that you had to shake off a two-hour rain delay and had to race past midnight, both you and the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet look strong, agile and powerful in your Duel. Good stuff on Thursday night?
KURT BUSCH: Yep, the car showed its strengths. The car was drafting very well and it had good handling. It had better handing than I expected. That will serve us well in the long run. And the Chevrolet camaraderie among the guys working together is very helpful. I was Chase Elliott’s wingman the first half of the race, and he was my wingman the second half and we were right there. We were poised to pounce. Yes, we had an electrical glitch where the car shut off right when I was ready to accelerate and I had to hit different switches and switch a battery. I got the car to refire, but it was all a little bit too late. At least the car finished without a scratch on it and we showed our strength and we are good in the draft.
Q: You’ve won here before and your average career finish at Daytona has been relatively strong at 14. The place has been good to you. Do you feel good with everything now with the race looming?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it’s been a bust lately, so we’re due, you know? I enjoy the restrictor plate racing. I would say that on average, my statistics are better than most and I just try to find that consistent feel with the car’s setup and I try to be as smart as I can in the draft and apply it to win. You know, it’s a privilege to be here at Daytona and get to go the track. I get the same butterflies and the same excitement and it seems like that every year that adds up, and now I’m into my second decade, it makes we smile even wider to appreciate what has happened over the years.
Q: You’ve got a new teammate in Ross Chastain in 2021…
KURT BUSCH: Yes, Ross Chastain is a good kid. He’s not quite a rookie. He’s got a ton of races under his belt, but now he’s in top-tier equipment and he’s got to put it all out there in a smart way. Some guys are going to still be a bit tough on him and I’m trying to coach him on just what to expect and how to utilize different parts of the season to advance his game.
Q: Since you’ve been down here and cranking out laps on this 2.5-mile monolith, have any racers, teams or cars really stood out to you this February?
KURT BUSCH: The Hendrick cars qualified well, as usual. They’ve been locking down that front row for years. They’ve got some little trick. The Toyotas are outnumbered and they stick together like glue. The Fords seem to have their acceleration out of the corners. And it seems like the Chevys have the top-end speed. It’s a good mix and it’s good variety and we’ll see who is able to position themselves at the end.
Q: Have you and team owner Chip Ganassi had a sit-down and talked about how you’re going to manage this 500-mile deal?
KURT BUSCH: When the green flag drops we want to move forward and we want to position ourselves towards the lead — or even in the lead of the race because that puts us in control. The more that you can control the race, well, the percentage chances go up and that helps us with hot pit entry when we do those green flag pit stops. It’s 2021 and I’m glad that there is a group of fans who are going to come enjoy the Great American Race, and for the ones who can’t be here and who will be tuning in, we’ll have millions of viewers watching us on Sunday and I’m ready to rip!