The Las Vegas Strip is often referred to as the Jewel of the Desert because of its reputation as the entertainment vacation capital of the country. More than 35 million visitors from around the world are drawn to the lights of the strip each year to experience its unique blend of entertainment, scenery and lavish resorts. “Sin City,” as it is also well known, provides a place to live on the wild side, and truly is a haven for overstimulation.
While many head there seeking fortune, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), actually left his hometown of Las Vegas to find his fortune as a championship-winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. However, it was the skills he developed and the reputation he earned right there in Las Vegas that would mark his first real steps toward reaching racing stardom.
Approximately 20 miles from the bright lights of The Strip sits the Bullring, a three-eighths-mile oval located outside the second turn of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was there that Busch began his racing career, racing in Legends cars, proving week in and week out to be the driver to beat. His consistent performances at the Bullring are what began to get him noticed.
In 1999, Busch was chosen to succeed Chris Trickle, a local legend who was killed in a drive-by shooting the year before, as the driver of the No. 70 Star Nursery Chevrolet. It would be Busch’s first full-time season in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He promptly won six races and the series championship that year but, more importantly, he captured the attention of successful NASCAR team owner Jack Roush, who decided to host driver auditions for a team he fielded in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The auditions were informally known as “The Gong Show” and Roush invited Busch to participate. In a pivotal moment in Busch’s life, he won the audition and started competing for Roush in 2000 – a campaign that played out in a whirlwind.
Busch started the 2000 season by scoring a second-place finish in the season-opening Truck Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He scored his first Truck Series win July 1 at The Milwaukee Mile, and then added three more victories before the year was out, including two from the pole. In what was his rookie season, Busch finished second in the championship.
Although it was only one season, Roush saw all he needed to know that Busch was a star. Less than a year after hiring him to race in the Truck Series, Roush announced that Busch would drive his No. 97 car in the Sprint Cup Series. Barely a year removed from running Late Models, Busch was racing the No. 97 car in NASCAR’s elite division.
While he has amassed a resume that includes 20 poles, 27 wins, 117 top-five finishes and 224 top-10s in 542 Sprint Cup starts; three poles, five wins, 17 top-fives and 23 top 10s in 30 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts; and four poles, four wins, 14 top-fives and 20 top-10s in 28 Truck Series races, he’ll always remember those big-city lights and nights in Las Vegas and the experiences gained there that made it all a reality.