23XI Racing team owner Denny Hamlin speaking the Friday afternoon before last weekend’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway.
“Really, what we can control is our drivers. I’ve got faith in my drivers and honestly, as a team, we’ve let them down early in the season.”
Hamlin may have felt that way at the time, but on Sunday afternoon on the Kansas Speedway asphalt it all came right when Kurt Busch raced to victory to earn the 34th Cup triumph of his storied 23-year NASCAR racing career.
A driver who has scored victories for team owners Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Stewart-Hass Racing, Chip Ganassi and now 23XI Racing over the past two decades, the triumph was Busch’s first with 23XI and could not have come at a better time for he and the team. And with the win, brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch have now tied Bobby and Donnie Allison with a total of 94 NASCAR Cup Series victories.
Q: I don’t know if you picked up on it, but there was a pretty big outpouring of positive emotion regarding your win on Sunday.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you. It takes a team! And it takes a really good group of people that want to just get down in there and grind with this building of a new team with 23XI, right? I mean, it takes a good group of people that want to commit and go after it and here we are: We’re winners early in the season in 2022. I couldn’t be happier for the team and for Billy Scott, our crew chief, who is the leader of this group. And I tell you, Denny Hamlin is working five different jobs as a team owner right now, and M.J. [Michael Jordan] is there and of course we all want to perform for him. It’s just a really good spiritual connection with everybody right now.
Q: I was able to speak with Denny Hamlin last Friday before the Kansas race, and despite the ups and downs 23XI has experienced in 2022, he made it a point to say he has faith in both you and Bubba. How was Denny when he leaned into your race car immediately after the checkered flag?
KB: Oh, that was a set of emotions that I’ve never seen out of Denny. It’s because he’s committed so much to this as far as effort, time, people and all the years that have gone into all of this. There has been a sequence of events, and I’ve felt it all when he leaned into the window. I was happy to do my part and to outduel [Kyle] Larson and my brother and that’s what makes it all even sweeter.
Q: With your win on Sunday, you and Kyle have now tied Bobby and Donnie Allison for career NASCAR Cup wins at 94…
KB: That’s awesome! Kyle and I both won this year and we’re adding to the win tally. Man, we need to get the Allison brothers to the next race and see if they’re ready for us to take over the record. That’s pretty sweet.
Q: Winning with that number 45 of Adam Petty meant a lot to you, didn’t it?
KB: It is a spiritual connection, for sure, with Adam Petty. M.J. wanted the 45 on this car. Between NASCAR and the Petty family, they held the 45 and we had to get Kyle Petty’s permission to register the 45 and when I talked to him during the off-season he said “Yep, I’ve told M.J. and I’ve told Denny that you’re the guy that I would want to take over this number. And it doesn’t even matter if you win, Kurt, it is the taking it over and having the pride of having Adam Petty out there, and you’re that character and you’re that guy that Adam would be on the good days.” I was really inspired by that.
Q: How was M.J. afterwards? Did you hear from him?
KB: Oh yeah. It was awesome. M.J. called me in victory lane and it was one of those moments where it’s like I knew I needed to perform to win and I didn’t want to have that phone call of, “Man, we just missed out!” or “It slipped through our fingers!” I wanted to win for him and for everybody and I’m happy to do my part. It was really cool to talk to the GOAT in victory lane.
Q: This is your 23rd Cup season and you have now competed in 769 Cup races. Is winning one of these things as big a rush as it always has been?
KB: It’s amazing. The older I get, each one gets even more special and this one was building the team up from the ground up and for everybody that came in to help make this car get to the race track. And here we are; winners. And then there is all the stuff we went through this year. We had the top five. We rattled off a couple top 10s in a row. We went through a bunch of wrecks, which was bonkers with all of the different things happening. Let’s just keep going. Let’s just look out the windshield and we’ll keep digging.