DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new start with a new team for Kurt Busch has the 2017 Daytona 500 winner focused on renewed success.
Busch replaced Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. He starts Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500 from the 12th starting position.
After driving Fords the last two years at Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch is back in a Chevrolet – a brand he drove from 2012 to 2016.
“The up arrow is around Chevrolet this year, whereas last year was a question mark,” Busch said. “Ford has the question mark with the Mustang. All of us really do with the new rules package on how it’s going to play out at the mile-and-a-half’s.
“Again, you win by numbers, and the percentage chances say that Chevrolet is going to have an up year this year. The timing worked out nicely.”
One thing Busch learned during his time in a Ford at Stewart-Haas is how the Ford drivers all stick together on the drafting tracks to help get to the front. It’s a philosophy he would like to see Chevrolet adopt this year, not only at Daytona, but the other race tracks as well.
Add up the numbers and the teams and it’s an idea that makes tremendous sense.
“I tried to express some of that concern to Chevrolet, how the Fords put that effort forth at 100 percent level to work together as much as they can,” Busch said. “At Penske, it’s not just two guys, they have four. That’s somewhat not thought of in the proper way. They have four strong cars. SHR, four strong ones. The Roush cars are always good. Then you have the Front Row Motorsports guys that get the A engines from Yates for the restrictor plates. There are a lot of Fords out there.
“The Chevys are outnumbered in that sense. Yes, we do need to work together the best we can to win in numbers and have that percentage chance when it comes down to the end on getting a bowtie in victory lane.”
One way to make that work is with his teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, Kyle Larson. Larson starts 26th, but over the course of 200 laps on a drafting track such as Daytona, they will ultimately find each other on the track and attempt to hook up.
“The way the teammates have always approached restrictor plate racing is you work together 99 percent of the time, and you do it with a conscious effort,” Busch explained. “At the same time, you don’t go out of your way to have to find the teammate. If it works out, it works out, you’re there.
“When it gets down to the closing stages, there’s that car number that’s on my door, and that’s the car that I’m racing for, and my guys are racing for. So, you somewhat separate from your teammates when you think you have the right opportunity to go for the win.
“With Larson, the two of us think a lot alike. He’s always had the right demeanor with making passes or yielding to a pass. The two of us have gotten along really well on track without having to communicate. I like that in him. There are things I’m going to learn from him, things I’m going to teach him. I’m really looking forward to the fun aspect of a young teammate, but also to challenge him to make him better at the same time.”
Busch has become one of the veterans of the sport. He will make his 650th career Cup Series start next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Don’t look for a retirement announcement from the 40-year-old Busch any time soon. He still has the heart and desire of a true racer. He also knows how a victory in the Daytona 500 is a life-changing experience.
“It’s like winning a championship,” Busch said. “I’m glad that I had the chance to win a Daytona 500 and have that bookend and that parallel to my championship that happened early in my career. I’m very thankful for it.
“It gives you that title that goes with you everywhere. You get to tell the stories about what it means to win this race, to not have to tell the stories about what it means to finish second three times.”