JOLIET, Ill. - When Kurt Busch was in junior high school living in the western part of Las Vegas, he had an almost daily ritual. Even though he lived in "Sin City," he fantasized of being some 1,700 miles to the east in the "Windy City." "I'd ...
JOLIET, Ill. - When Kurt Busch was in junior high school living in the western part of Las Vegas, he had an almost daily ritual. Even though he lived in "Sin City," he fantasized of being some 1,700 miles to the east in the "Windy City."
"I'd hurry home after school and turn on the TV to WGN in Chicago - it was Channel 16 on the cable way back then and it still is," Busch, driver of the Miller Lite Dodge, recalled just as if it were only yesterday. "I'd grab my baseball glove, put on my Cubs cap, hop into my dad's easy chair and tune in to watch my favorite sport and my favorite team.
"There was nothing like it in the whole world," Busch boasted. "It was major league baseball at its best with my Chicago Cubs. I can remember today just how exciting it was way back then. I can still hear Harry Caray with his famous introduction to the seventh-inning stretch, going 'Alright! Lemme hear ya! Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!'
"We might have been living in (Las) Vegas back then, but for several hours every day that the Cubbies were playing on TV, my heart was really right there in Wrigley Field," said Busch. "I dreamed of being right there with my heroes. I just imagined taking the field with my all-time favorites, like Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Rafael Palmeiro, Vance Law, Shawon Dunston and all the others."
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and an 18-race winner entering this weekend's stop at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, says it almost feels like a homecoming event every time the circuit returns to the "Chi-Town" area.
"My family is from the western suburbs of Chicago and I still have many relatives living around the city," said Busch. "My mom and dad got married in 1972 in Vegas and decided to move there a couple of years later. One of the biggest reasons was due to the climate. Rheumatoid arthritis runs on both sides of my family and my mom was bothered by it at an early age.
"Growing up in Las Vegas like we did, there were no major league sports teams," said Busch, "so with my family's Chicago connection, it was only natural to start pulling for the Chicago teams as a young kid.
"Probably what sealed the deal as for my love for Chicago was back when I was just six years old and we went back to visit my grandfather who lived right in the city," said Busch. "We went to Lake Michigan, to the Sears Tower, to the Lincoln Park Zoo - all over the place. It made such a tremendous impression on me. Living in Las Vegas, we never saw anything like that back then.
"What else is there to say but Chicago is my kind of town," said Busch. "As a matter of fact, we're scheduling a special trip back to Chicago to celebrate my 30th birthday next month. We're gonna' do some of the touristy things like go to the Navy Pier and take a boat ride up the Chicago River and out on Lake Michigan. It'll all be built around seeing my Cubbies play the (Houston) Astros that night.
"I know that may sound kind of weird to a lot of people," Busch chuckled. "It may sound kinda' strange that a guy would choose to do that for such a monumental event as his 30th birthday. I guess you'd maybe expect to see a Chicago guy head out to Vegas to celebrate the big occasion. But this Vegas guy is heading to Chicago to celebrate his."
Some 54 miles outside Chicago lies the Chicagoland Speedway near Joliet. Busch certainly has a special attraction to this 1.5-mile racing facility.
"Hey, the track may not be in Chicago proper, but it still carries the Chicago name and is close enough that we can enjoy all the great things that the city offers," said Busch, who has recorded five top-10 finishes in seven races on the track. "With my love for Chicago and that area, it would be really special if we can pull off a win there. With all the aunts, uncles and cousins living around there, it would be like one great big family reunion and victory celebration all in one."
--Kurt, Pat and team will be racing their "PSC-550" Miller Lite Dodge Charger this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. The car debuted at Darlington in May, where Kurt started fifth and finished 12th. The "550 car" was raced last at Pocono on June 8, where Kurt started 11th and finished eighth. "We've only raced it twice and it's probably been our strongest car overall," Pat said. "We tested it against another car (PSC-557) back during the two-day test at Pocono. Kurt has done well with it so far and it's been very consistent. We have a lot of confidence that we can have a good run with the car at Chicago on Saturday night."
--Pat is still pretty much awestruck at his driver's performance last Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. "Kurt was amazing out there, that's for sure," Pat said of the No. 2 team's run to a fourth-place finish. "The backup car certainly wasn't the caliber we needed and we knew that from the drop of the green flag. We threw everything imaginable at it, even making a 16-round adjustment on the track bar, pulling spring rubbers out and changing the right-front shock. We did some really drastic changes, but when it came down to it, Kurt deserves all the credit for coming through with that finish. He is so good in the plate races. If he can ever get into a position to be up in the lead pack at the end, watch out. He is simply amazing at feeling things out and getting all he can at the end of these races. He did it again there in Daytona last Saturday night."
--Kurt enters Saturday night's LifeLock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway 17th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings with 1,954 points (considering pending penalty for No. 1 team). He trails 12th-place Tony Stewart by 191 points for "Chase eligibility" with eight races remaining to determine the 12 players in the championship battle. Last season at this time, Kurt was 15th and he trailed 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 121 points. "It just shows you how much tougher the competition is this year and what a bigger battle we face in trying to make the Chase," Kurt said. "There are a lot of really good teams sitting there between 10th and where we are right now. We really have our work cut out for us during the next eight races."
--Kurt has decided to name his New Hampshire race-winning "PSC-574" Dodge Charger "Rain Man."
"It's a pretty appropriate name when you consider what all unfolded during that race," Kurt said. "I always loved that movie with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise hitting the road in that classic Buick Roadmaster convertible. I know that Don Miller always had that as a special nickname for (Ryan) Newman. It was my third win on the track and Penske Racing's fourth Cup win there, so it was pretty special." According to the schedule for upcoming races, the next time "Rain Man" will be raced will be in the return to NHMS for the Sept. 14 race.
--Kurt and Eva have named the gigantic 25-pound lobster they received for winning the June 29 Lenox Industrial Tools 301 "Loudon." "We thought that was a pretty catchy name for it, 'Loudon the lobster,'" said Kurt. "We decided to give it a special home, either in the big aquarium in Boston or the special one that Jerry Gappens and the staff are talking about building there at the track. We'll be able to enjoy seeing those pictures of holding 'ol Loudon up in Victory Lane for years to come. It's only appropriate that he have a nice home to rest in after being such a fun part of the victory celebration."