Kurt Busch Scores Emotional Daytona Win

In late 2011, Kurt Busch’s NASCAR career was on the brink.

Following six seasons with Team Penske filled with successes and frustrations, Busch suddenly found himself exploring his options and possibly, his position as a driver in this sport.

Undoubtedly, Busch was one of the more competitive racers on the circuit at the time.  However, his passionate demeanor behind the wheel was also a bit of a weakness, sometimes getting in the way of the true tasks at hand.

Flocking to Phoenix Racing for a majority of 2012, Busch went through a transition with rebuilding himself and reputation with his peers.  An emotional third place finish at Sonoma was a reminder that Busch still had plenty of competitiveness in the tank.

Moving over to Furniture Row Racing late in 2012, Busch’s efforts started to finally reflect in his race finishes, scoring 11 top-10s and 16 top-10 results en route to a 10th place points finish in 2013.

If Kurt's brother is "Rowdy," then perhaps he's Cole Trickle?

If Kurt’s brother is “Rowdy,” then perhaps he’s Cole Trickle?

Joining Stewart-Haas Racing in ’14, Busch settled in with his new home, finishing 12th, eighth, and seventh in the points standings in his first three seasons.  Heading into this year, the No. 41 team transitioned from Chevrolet to Ford, the manufacturer who Busch drove for in his years with Roush Fenway Racing (2000-’05).

Last Sunday’s Daytona 500 was a microcosm of the past six years for Busch.  Much like drafting in a pack at Daytona International Speedway, the No. 41 team shuffled around the lead pack.  On lap 129, the 38-year-old’s promising race day hit a bit of a roadblock, getting collected in the turn 3 melee that involved 17 drivers.

All things considered, Busch’s No. 41 machine was in somewhat pristine shape compared to his peers, only requiring duct tape to repair some of the damage.

“I’m thankful enough we didn’t have too much damage,” Busch said.  “The nose was clean and the tail was clean.  Yeah, the sides were a bit wrinkled up.  You just kind of let the rough edges drag and you go for it.  There’s things that everybody has to go through to win this race.  Usually there’s not a perfect car anymore.”

Steadily working through traffic, Busch found himself running in the lead draft with 30 laps to go when trouble would strike once more when the rear-view mirror broke.

“I couldn’t see crap out the back,” he remarked.  “I could see nobody back there.  I said, What would my dad do?  What would he teach me to do as a young racer?  I thought of the times I raced my dwarf car with my dad as my owner and crew chief.  I watched that little dwarf car without a mirror. 

You go off intuition, off momentum, off sound of other cars.  I envisioned a track that the top groove was the primary groove when I was growing up at a kid.  I said, I just got to stay up high, take advantage of other people’s mistakes, and I have to leave two to three feet to the right side of my car to try to absorb guys from the left side, and make my car as wide as I could.”

Riding the high line for the remainder of the 500, Busch built momentum in the final three laps, picking off positions and making the race winning move on the final lap, passing Kyle Larson in turn two.

Heading down the backstretch and into turns three and four, Busch pulled away from Ryan Blaney, scoring an emotional victory by 0.228 seconds.  For a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve, last Sunday’s victorious moment was validation for his career and potentially, the moment confirming his comeback.

To the victors goes the spoils.

To the victors goes the spoils.

“I tell you, age and wisdom, they come together,” Busch observed.  “Youth is wasted on the young.  I’ve been through some different patches here or there, but to have a team that believes in me, that’s the most important part.  To have a wife that believes in me, and a family of course, all the way through all of this.”

The passion and propensity to use colorful metaphors on the radio is still there for Busch during race weekends. Ultimately, this version of Kurt Busch has the ability to overcome adversities, to take accountability for mistakes, and most of all, to remember the tasks at hand during the races.

Nowadays, Busch has plenty of reasons to keep motivated and focused on race day.

From 2011 to today, it's been quite the comeback for Kurt Busch.

From 2011 to today, it’s been quite the comeback for Kurt Busch.

Crew chief Tony Gibson has made a world of difference for Busch behind the wheel.  Having worked with drivers like the late Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman, their different personalities mesh well.

Busch has also credited his wife Ashley with helping him overcome moments that would’ve derailed his efforts in the racecar, which in turn, motivated him to look past his mirror situation.

“It’s like today when the mirror broke with 30 to go,” he mused.  “I looked at it.  I saw her in it.  I’m like, She’s just going to smile.  She’s just going to figure it out.”

On Sunday, Busch figured it out at Daytona to score his 29th premier series victory.  Perhaps he may just figure out how to score his second championship this November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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