As Kurt Busch heads to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, he happily wears a blue Ford oval for his 33rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at the ultrafast two-mile oval.
Fifteen of Busch’s 29 career NASCAR Cup Series wins have come with Ford, and after 11 years away from the brand (2006-2016), Busch came back in a big way in 2017 by wheeling his No. 41 Ford Fusion into victory lane in the season-opening Daytona 500.
In keeping with the oval theme, it was a full-circle win for Busch. He brought Ford its last NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2004, and the Daytona 500 victory automatically earned him and his Monster Energy/Haas Automation team one of the 16 playoff spots available for this year’s championship drive.
Busch has never been one to rest on past success, and the taste of victory has only made him hungry for more. With 13 races having passed since feasting at Daytona, Busch is ready for another hearty meal, and no place is better than the backyard of the United States’ Big Three auto manufacturers – Michigan International Speedway.
For Dearborn-based Ford Motor Company, the 70-mile drive from the Detroit area into the lush green of the state’s Irish Hills region only whets the appetite for what 400 miles on Sunday can bring.
Ford has won nearly half the NASCAR Cup Series races run at the track since it opened in 1969. Of the 95 NASCAR Cup Series races contested at Michigan, Ford and its Mercury brand have won 47 of them (35 wins by Ford and 12 by Mercury). Busch is credited with one of those triumphs – June 2003 when he snatched the lead from Jeff Gordon with 24 laps to go to claim his seventh career Cup Series win.
Busch has scored two more Michigan wins since – August 2007 and June 2015 – to tie Matt Kenseth for the most wins at Michigan among active Cup Series drivers. Those victories are augmented by two poles (June 2010 and June 2011), five top-threes, 11 top-10s and a total of 448 laps led, which is second only to Jimmie Johnson’s tally of 687 laps led.
Now back with the blue oval, Busch is intent on getting a second championship and Ford’s first since the one Busch delivered for the marque in 2004. After 14 races, Busch is tracing a similar path in 2017 as he did in 2004. He has a win and two top-fives, just like he did in 2004, and his seven top-10s are actually one better than the amount he had in 2004.
Busch comes into the 15th race of 2017 fresh off a strong fourth-place drive at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. It was his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races. Now he’s eyeing a fourth win at Michigan with a Monster Energy/Haas Automation team that thinks outside the box and inside the oval.