As Kurt Busch embarks on his 17th full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and his fourth with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), he has a good reason to feel right at home as the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion, as the 2017 marks a homecoming for Busch to Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer with whom he won the 2004 Cup Series championship.
It was Busch’s first Cup Series title and Ford’s most recent. Now reunited, the goal is to once again hoist the trophy during the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch will attempt to surpass NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte’s record for time between championships –12 seasons separated Labonte’s two titles in 1984 and 1996 – and do it with the Dearborn, Michigan-based manufacturer with whom his NASCAR Cup Series career began.
The story of Busch’s start in NASCAR is well documented. While racing in the Southwest Tour Series, his skill attracted the attention of 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 in Ford F-150s for Roush in 2000. Since then, both Busch and Ford have gone on to experience much success. But, there’s more to be had, and to be had together.
That all starts with the 59th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Three times a runner-up in the season-opening event, Busch is still seeking his first Harley J. Earl trophy. In fact, while he’s found victory lane at Daytona before, in 2011’s Advance Auto Parts Clash and Can-Am Duel, he’s yet to score a win in a points-paying race at either Daytona or its sister racetrack, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. While he hasn’t found victory, he’s almost always found a way to be in contention at the end. And that, in a race that is known for unpredictable racing with the high likelihood of large, multicar accidents at any moment, is an impressive feat that cannot be overlooked.
Busch has been listed as running at the end of 30 of 31 career points-paying Cup Series starts at Daytona. While he’s seemingly mastered the art of finishing Daytona races, it’s the finishing first part he’s yet to figure out. In fact, a superspeedway win is the only kind that has eluded him during his 18-year Cup Series career. With a victory in the Daytona 500, Busch would join an elite list of drivers who have won at every type of track on the circuit: superspeedway, speedway, intermediate, short track and road course.
So, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Daytona to kick off the 2017 season, Busch hopes being reunited with Ford can help him not only to finally find his way to victory in the Daytona 500, but also to improve upon his successes of the last four seasons with SHR. While he’s made the playoffs each year with the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team, he’s fallen short of contending for the championship late in the playoffs.
With the 16-driver Cup Series championship format, all it takes is just one win to lock a driver and team into the playoffs. Busch would like nothing more than to score that win in the 59th Daytona 500, marking his first victory in the prestigious event and placing him well on his way to reaching his season-long goal of winning his second Cup Series title.