Growing up in Las Vegas, Kurt Busch spent the early years of his career competing at tracks along the West Coast.
And when he wasn’t behind the wheel of his racecar, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) traveled to area tracks to take in races as a spectator. Throughout the 1990s, Busch regularly made the trek to Phoenix International Raceway just to have the chance to watch NASCAR superstars like Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison compete.
Getting the opportunity to race at the mile oval in the desert west of Phoenix – the same track where he had cheered for many of his racing heroes – was a dream come true for Busch. Racing at the track was like a home game for Busch, who also attended college for several semesters at the University of Arizona down the road in Tucson before making it in NASCAR’s big leagues.
While he was coming up through the ranks, Busch made a number of race starts at Phoenix, competing in series such as NASCAR’s Southwest Series tour. Then, in 2000, Busch took to the track for the first time as a competitor in NASCAR’s top touring series, competing in both the Camping World Truck Series race in March, in which he finished fourth, and then in the Sprint Cup race in November later that same season, in which he finished 29th.
Since his first Sprint Cup start at Phoenix, it has been a track where Busch has performed consistently. In 23 starts there, he has secured one win in spring 2005, five top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He has an average finish of 14.6, which is the third-highest finishing average for Busch of any active track on the Sprint Cup schedule.
While this weekend’s Phoenix 500k Sprint Cup race is the penultimate event of the 2014 season, it’s just the second for Busch with his new crew chief and road crew.
Last weekend’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth was the first for Busch with veteran crew chief Tony Gibson.
Busch qualified fourth for his first outing with Gibson and maintained a spot in the top-10 for most of the 500-mile race. The Haas Automation driver was able to overcome a series of slow stops on pit road in the second half of the race that had put a seemingly sure top-10 finish in doubt. Using some late-race pit strategy, Busch was able to charge from 15th to the lead and appeared to have a shot at the victory before a series of cautions for late-race accidents would greatly alter the desired outcome. Busch finished eighth, earning his 10th top-10 of the season.
For Busch, the first outing with Gibson and his new crew was something to be proud of. Busch & Company showed it could work together well as it battled back for the hard-fought eighth-place finish. Their performance showed signs of promise and exciting things to come in the eyes of Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
This weekend, he hopes to continue building on and improving upon his new relationship with Gibson, who scored his first-ever win as a crew chief at Phoenix with driver Ryan Newman in April 2010. With both driver and crew chief enjoying past success at the mile oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” it could be an ideal venue for the two to rise to the next level this weekend.