One upon a time, Kurt Busch was on track to be the king of Bristol. He finished 42nd and 25th respectively in his first two starts at the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in 2001, but, in his third ever start at the high banked Tennessee track, Busch reached victory lane after starting 27th in that race. It was also his first career Cup victory, but in winning in just his third ever start at Bristol, he became the driver with the fewest starts at “Thunder Valley” to record his first win at the high-banked, concrete oval.
His Bristol success didn’t stop there either. He went on to win in three of his next four visits by sweeping both the March and August Cup Series races in 2003, and winning again in March 2004.
His incredible three-race win streak made him one of just four drivers to have accomplished the feat at Bristol. Fred Lorenzen was the first, winning the fall race in 1963 and following that with a season sweep in 1964. Cale Yarborough is the second driver to record three straight wins – and he added a fourth for good measure – sweeping both the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Darrell Waltrip became the third to win three or more races in a row when he reeled off seven consecutive wins, sweeping the 1981, 1982 and 1983 seasons, and also winning the spring race in 1984.
Those four victories at Bristol in his first seven starts there showed he was well on his way to being among one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately though, outside of another victory in the Spring race in 2006, he hasn’t won since.
Now, he has his sights set on his first win in Bristol in his last 21 starts there, but his second win of the 2017 season.
“To me, getting around Bristol is all about low-end torque and being able to jump out of the corner with a lot of speed,” Busch said in his weekly release. “Doug Yates (engine builder) seems to have the right package for that at Bristol. Joey Logano has won a couple of races there recently. Brad Keselowski has been strong, as well. The Roush cars seem to run well every time we go there.”
2017 started well for Busch, a win in the Daytona 500 and seventh at Atlanta had him feeling like this could be a banner year. Unfortunately though, the four races after he didn’t even sniff the top 20 with finishes of 30th, 25th, 24th and 37th respectively. But, he improved to a 10th place run in the last race at Texas, and now is hoping he can get another top 10, or even a win this weekend.
In fact, since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Busch has found himself on more than one occasion in position to return to his winning ways at Bristol.
In the 2015 running of the Food City 500, Busch led six times for 98 laps. But when the caution flag flew for a five-car incident on lap 482, Busch headed for pit road while most of the others up front at that point in the race did not. Busch restarted sixth but, barely a dozen laps later, was collected in a multicar accident.
In his most-recent Bristol start, Busch lined up second for a lap-372 restart. Coming off turn two, he passed Joey Logano for the lead. However, Busch got loose in front of Logano, and contact between the two set off an 11-car incident that would see the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s race end early.