Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing
It seems like just yesterday that Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500. But alas, just 35 races have come and gone and now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is coming to an end at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has one win, six top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 2017 but would love to add one more to each of those totals.
At Homestead, he has two poles, one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10s. Additionally, the 39-year-old driver has led 97 laps, has an average starting position of 13.9, an average finish of 18.1, and has completed 88.6 percent (3,789 of 4,278) of the laps he’s contested there.
And he’s one of the few drivers who competed on the previous version of the oval, banked at just six degrees in the turns, to the current banking of 18 to 20 degrees. He competed on the previous version three times from 2000 to 2002, while driving on the new version since 2003.
Busch has also won a Cup Series championship at the track in 2004.
He went into that weekend with an 18-point lead in the standings. He started on the pole and, needing only to finish ahead of four drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin – Busch was able to run with the leaders for the first 90 laps until, as he was coming to pit road, the right-front wheel broke off his racecar. He miraculously missed hitting the outside pit wall by less than a foot, then was able to make his way to his pit stall and remain on the lead lap despite the setback.
From there, Busch, who was driving a Ford, moved forward through the caution-filled race and, while his two closest championship rivals Johnson and Gordon took second and third place, respectively, Busch’s fifth-place finish – his 21st top-10 of the year – was enough to win during the first year of a playoff-style championship format.
Two years prior to scoring the championship at Homestead, Busch celebrated his lone victory there while his current teammate and car co-owner Tony Stewart celebrated winning the first of his three Cup Series championships on the frontstretch. Busch led the first 10 laps, passed Ryan Newman on lap 256, and held onto the lead in the 267-lap season finale, bringing home his fourth victory of the 2002 season.
Both Busch and veteran crew chief Tony Gibson are hoping they can put together another successful weekend.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Homestead is a fast, mile-and-a-half racetrack. It’s a sister racetrack to Texas, to me. It’s an older racetrack, the worn-out asphalt is similar to Texas and, if you ran well at Texas, you’ll run well at Miami. There’s a lot that carries over from one to the other. Since 2004, there’s been a nostalgic feeling when I get to Homestead. Winning the championship in the first year of the Chase format was a magical time for me.”
What’s it like for you, as a driver, to have seen Homestead change so much over the years?
“Homestead is a lot of fun to race on, both the old configuration and the current configuration with the multiple grooves of banking. With the old configuration, it was all about the bottom of the racetrack, how you could exit the corner and make the straightaways longer. It was all about the softest springs you could run because you wanted the car as low as possible. Now, with the way the cars are set up, you have to have stiffer springs to manage the banking. You have to shoot for the middle. You run the middle groove in practice. That way, you can get to the bottom and not have your car so far off on setup, and then you can go to the high groove when the tires wear out to keep your momentum up high. But then, you have those crazy restarts and that is what this racetrack is perfectly designed for – that mad dash at the beginning with fresh tires. It’s the ultimate place because it puts it more in the driver’s hands.”
Talk a little bit about the race at Homestead from a fan’s perspective.
“NASCAR has always been about family. A family can come and find all types of different activities around the event. Perfect weather, usually. The race ends right around nightfall, so you can get back home before it gets too late on that Sunday night and get the kids back to school on Monday.”