It all started on September 24, 2000 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Kurt Busch, who was just 22 years old, drove the No. 97 John Deere Ford Taurus for Roush Fenway Racing in the MBNA.com 400. It was his first career start in NASCAR’s top series.
At Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor (Tenn.) Speedway, Busch will make his 600th NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. And for the driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), there is no better place for it to happen than at Bristol.
Busch has five wins, nine top-five finishes and 16 top-10s at the .533-mile concrete oval and has led 1,062 laps in 33 career starts there.
He scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Bristol in March 2002. He started 27th and led 89 laps en route to that maiden victory. It was only his third visit to the .533-mile, high-banked oval, making him the only driver to record his first win at Bristol in fewer than four attempts.
His five Bristol wins – March 2002 and 2003, August 2003, March 2004 and 2006 – tie him with his younger brother Kyle Busch as the winningest active NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Bristol.
Busch even completed the Bristol sweep in 2003, winning both the spring and fall NASCAR Cup Series events. He started ninth and led 116 laps in March while starting fifth and leading 121 laps in August. In March 2004, Busch went on to record his third consecutive win at Bristol when he started 13th and led 119 laps on his way to victory lane.
He is one of four drivers to win three or more consecutive Cup Series races at Bristol. Fred Lorenzen won three in a row starting with the fall race in 1963, followed by a sweep of both 1964 events. Cale Yarborough won four in a row with sweeps in 1976 and 1977. Darrell Waltrip won seven in a row, including sweeps in 1981, 1982 and 1983, then a win at the March 1984 race.
Busch has led laps in 15 of his 33 career Cup Series starts at Bristol and he has led more than 100 laps four times, including three consecutive races – 116 in March 2003, 121 in August 2003, and 119 in March 2004.
But on that day at Dover 17 years ago, the young Busch started 10th and finished a solid 18th with Jeff Hammond as his crew chief.
His current team owner Tony Stewart won the race, while Johnny Benson and Ricky Rudd were second and third. Of the 43 drivers in the field, only Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Busch are full-time in the series this season.
Busch’s current crew chief Tony Gibson refers to everyone as “Old Man.” But Busch doesn’t feel like an “Old Man,” and this week at Bristol, he’s hoping he can add to his Bristol – and NASCAR – legacy.