Quick, name the only 1.5-mile oval the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit between now and the start of the 10-race playoffs. If you answered Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, go to the head of the line.
Five of the 10 races in the playoffs take place on 1.5-mile ovals, making Kentucky a valuable track to not only earn a race win and stage bonus points to secure one’s playoff position, but to also gain valuable data for a championship drive that culminates on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If you’re standing at the head of the line when the checkered flag drops at Homestead, it means you’re the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Kurt Busch was in this very position in 2004 when he won the championship in its first playoff guise.
That a title-winning party in South Beach can trace its origins to the Upland South region of Kentucky is not far-fetched. Twice the winner of the Kentucky 400 has gone on to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship – Brad Keselowski in 2012 and Kyle Busch in 2015.
There have only been six NASCAR Cup Series races at Kentucky since the series made its inaugural trip to the track in 2011. Kurt Busch, while winless at Kentucky, has knocked down a top-five finish, four top-10s and led a total of 51 laps. His average start is 11.5 and his average finish is 10th. Also impressive is his 100-percent lap completion rate, where the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion has completed all 1,602 laps available.
Busch’s best Kentucky performance came in last year’s race when he qualified third and led once for 10 laps before finishing fourth. The third-place qualifying effort equaled his best at Kentucky, first earned in the inaugural Cup Series race in 2011. And his fourth-place finish was his best at the track, topping his previous best of sixth secured in the 2013 race.
That fourth-place finish allowed Busch to check off another stat box on his tenured Cup Series resume, as it gave Busch a top-five at every track on the Cup Series schedule. Prior to last year, Kentucky was the only omission.
Busch returns to the Bluegrass State with back-to-back top-10 finishes in the Kentucky 400. He’s eager to upgrade those performances with a win and simultaneously notch his milestone 30th career NASCAR Cup Series victory to take sole possession of 25th on the all-time Cup Series win list.
While victory at Kentucky is in his immediate sights, a strong performance aids Busch’s long-term goal of securing another championship. Between participating in a Goodyear tire test May 9-10 at Kentucky and coming out of Saturday night’s Kentucky 400 with another strong drive, Busch believes Kentucky can take him to Homestead.