Kurt Busch has enjoyed a storied career in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
On Saturday night, he'll celebrate his 600th-career Cup start at Bristol Motor Speedway
While the 2004 NASCAR champion has enjoyed his share of success over the last 18 seasons — including this year’s Daytona 500. But his debut at Dover International Speedway was quite the eye-opener.
“I was in way over my head,” Busch said. “It was at Dover for my first-ever start and I think I qualified 10th. And they dropped the green flag and guys like Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Dale (Earnhardt) Sr., just went blowing by me. And I’m flat out.
“And I was like, ‘What’s the rush? I thought this was 400 miles?’ I literally fell back to last place and I remember radioing in and said, ‘Am I last yet?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Good.’ And I took a deep breath and just started passing them one at a time and I ended up 18th and two laps down in my first race.”
At 20, Busch earned rookie honors on the Southwest tour and won the title the following year. He was recruited for the truck series following his success in Roush Racing Gong Show. As a rookie, Busch won four truck races and finishes second to teammate Greg Biffle in the 2000 truck standings. A month prior to the season finale, he made his first Cup start — 600 races ago.
“It’s a fun number,” Busch said of the accomplishment. “You don’t think about it when you’re racing. You don’t have it as a goal when you start out racing. I love that fact that it’s at Bristol. The 600th start happens to be at a milestone track for me because I won my first race there and I’ve won my most races there.
“It’s been a special place for me over the years. It’ll be nice to celebrate it there. I never thought I’d see 600, you don’t really think about it. It almost feels like 400 to me.”
Busch has scored 29 wins in 599 career Cup starts. Five of Busch’s victories were earned here at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he and his brother lead the tour with most wins. The elder Busch was the last driver to win three consecutive races — a streak which started with both events in 2003 and the 2004 spring contest.
“I like how you can attack the track in certain situations,” Busch said. “And then you have to cruise in other situations. You always have to know your surroundings at Bristol. When someone is on your rear bumper or if you are really trying to pressure somebody hard, is there a reason to be doing such? You have to be one with the track and then just digest where the other cars are around you.”
Busch will have his hands full on Saturday night trying to navigate traffic for his 25th-starting position in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. With Busch in a contract year, a 30th victory would be a welcomed addition to his resume. At 39, Busch isn’t ready to hang up his helmet just yet.
“I still feel like there is plenty more to do, more races to win,” Busch said. “I haven’t won at Darlington or Indianapolis and those are ones I want to check off the list. But (600 races) is a proud moment for myself. And a time to say thanks to my dad and all the different car owners I’ve raced for and raced with. And all the sponsors. It’s been a great ride. But it also feels like there is more left.”