At the midpoint of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) looks to continue building on what has been a career year thus far for the 2004 series champion.
Busch has scored top-10 finishes in 14 of 17 races thus far, marking the most he’s recorded to start a season since 2010, when he had 10 top-10s through 17 starts. He’s the only driver to have completed all 4,935 laps to date. And he enters this weekend’s Kentucky 400 on an impressive 13-race streak of top-10 finishes on mile-and-a-half racetracks that dates back to May 9, 2015 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
From Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, the site of this Saturday night’s Kentucky 400, to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch has proven to be a model of consistency with an average start of 9.3 and an average finish of 6.8.
But heading into Kentucky this weekend, Busch will be looking for a little bit more. When Busch finished second at Kansas in October 2013 to now-teammate Kevin Harvick, it left Kentucky as the only remaining racetrack where Busch had yet to score a top-five finish in Sprint Cup competition. Kentucky plays host to the Sprint Cup Series Saturday night for just the sixth time since it joined the schedule in 2011.
Busch is one of the more experienced drivers who will compete at Kentucky Saturday night. In fact, he participated in the track’s inaugural event – a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in June 2000. Busch, then a rookie in the series, started 32nd and, as he recalls, overdrove every turn before eventually wrecking his truck on lap 111 of the scheduled 150-lap event. He also competed in a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series races there in 2012 while driving for his brother’s team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. He finished second in his first outing and was credited with a 28th-place finish after a rear-end failure in the other.
It wasn’t until 2011 that the Sprint Cup Series made its first visit to the Bluegrass State. In the years between 2000 and 2011, since the track was not used by NASCAR’s premier series, race teams could use the track liberally for testing. Busch claims that his former team, Roush Racing, would visit the track almost every other Tuesday to test new setups for upcoming races.
While Busch is still looking for his first Sprint Cup top-five at the track, he has been able to record three top-10s and has never finished outside the top-20. He has completed all 1,355 laps of Sprint Cup competition since 2011, has an average start of 13.2 and average finish of 11.2. He also has led 41 laps.
A top-five finish Saturday night in the Kentucky 400 would place Busch in rather elite company as one of only a handful of drivers with top-five finishes at all the racetracks visited by the Sprint Cup Series. A victory would allow for some serious bravado.
With little to worry about in terms of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs this season thanks to having already found victory lane in 2016 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway last month, the 28-time Sprint Cup race winner will look to earn additional points for the postseason as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase.