Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has five NASCAR Sprint Cup series victories at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, tying him with his younger brother Kyle as the winningest active drivers at the .533-mile bullring heading into Sunday’s Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Kurt, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, earned his first-career series win at Bristol in March 2002. It came in only his third outing there, making him the driver with the fewest starts at Thunder Valley to record his first win at the high-banked, concrete oval.
But the older Busch’s Bristol success didn’t stop there. He went on to win in three of his next four visits by sweeping both the March and August Sprint Cup races in 2003, and winning again in March 2004.
His incredible three-race win streak makes him one of just four drivers to have accomplished the feat at “Thunder Valley.” Fred Lorenzen was the first, winning the fall race in 1963 and following that with a season sweep in 1964. Cale Yarborough is the second driver to record three straight wins – and he added a fourth for good measure – sweeping both the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Darrell Waltrip became the third to win three or more races in a row when he reeled off seven consecutive wins, sweeping the 1981, 1982 and 1983 seasons, and also winning the spring race in 1984.
Busch’s most recent win at Bristol came in this race 10 year ago, in March 2006. It’s not to say he hasn’t had the runs that could have given him his sixth victory there, it’s just that circumstances have prevented him from sealing the deal. As recently as the 2015 running of the Food City 500, Busch led six times for 98 laps. But when the caution flag flew for a five-car incident on lap 482, Busch headed for pit road while most of the others up front at that point in the race did not. Busch restarted the race sixth but, barely a dozen laps later, was collected in an accident when Carl Edwards slipped while running side-by-side with Jeff Gordon. Busch, trailing the two, was unable to avoid contact with Edwards and the result was heavy damage to the right front of his Chevrolet. Busch would be credited with a 15th-place finish but believed his No. 41 Chevrolet was a race-winning car.
Things may be looking up for Busch. Two of his three Sprint Cup victories since joining SHR have come on short tracks – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
A win in Sunday’s Food City 500 would certainly help Busch’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff chances. It also would bring his win total at Bristol to six, making him the winningest active driver at the track. Perhaps the sweetest part of all, Busch could then once again regain ownership of the “Mr. Bristol” moniker.