Just barely falling short of winning the Race Of Champions competition this past weekend in Miami has Kurt Busch pumped up to win another kind of championship.
And it’s a Monster, indeed.
Busch, who was the first driver to win the then-new Chase for the Nextel Cup format in 2004, would like nothing more than to become the first driver to win the rebranded Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
What’s more, if Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion – which will also continue to be sponsored by Monster Energy as well – has an added bit of incentive tacked on from his championship run 12 years ago.
Busch is the last Ford-powered driver to bring a NASCAR Cup championship to the blue oval company. Since Busch’s championship with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004, there have been 12 Chevrolets, one Dodge and one Toyota that have won NASCAR’s most coveted crown.
But not Ford. Busch has high hopes of changing that 0-for-14 streak.
“It is a special homecoming feeling to head back to work with Ford and to have them with our power and our bodies at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Busch said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “It really feels neat to come back to a place where I’ve seen the faces before and the way that the structure has been polished up on and the way that there’s more depth with Ford Performance.
“The best thing that I’ve seen already come out of things is that the engineering staff at Stewart-Haas. It’s like they just opened up a whole new book of things to look at and to advance our program further from where we were with GM.”
Admittedly, while the entire Stewart-Haas organization is excited about its first season with all-new Ford power and bodies, there could still be a learning curve of getting used to a different manufacturer after SHR’s previous long tenure with Chevrolet.
But even without any preseason testing, Busch remains optimistic that he and his teammates can come out strong right from the start of the season.
“The teams have more depth,” he said. “There’s more simulations. It used to be the driver and the crew chief came back with a notebook. Now the notebook has been used by the lead engineers.
“Limited track time saves money, but you spend more on personnel to make the cars faster, safer, stronger. I’ve seen some of the drawings. We had to change a few of our suspension settings. There might be a few bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it.”
Competing in this past weekend’s Race Of Champions in Miami added yet another excerpt to Busch’s vast racing resume, including NASCAR to drag racing, midget cars to Legends cars and bandolero’s, and even drove in the Indianapolis 500.
But the ROC was definitely an adventure.
“The Race of Champions is very unique and it’s a lot of fun,” Busch said. “It’s a chaotic, frat house feel and to race against the Europeans, the South Americans, it truly was a unique challenge and all the different vehicles that the Race of Champions puts you in and how it’s structured and how it all works, but it’s the fun, it’s the other side of it too.
“After my first race Sunday, I got beat by Hinchcliffe (IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe) by only a fraction of a second and I was feeling a little down.
“And I said, ‘I think I’ve got the wrong mentality. I just need to go like this is a green-white-checker every time I go out there. Just grab gears, hard on the brake, hard on the gas, just attack the track and go for it.’
“And then I started winning. I was able to get on the other side of the second bracket that I needed to get in and then Kyle was winning as well. He was beating guys like Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, and the next thing you know we advanced as the NASCAR group as brothers and represented the USA in the finals against (Sebastian) Vettel. That was an incredible feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Busch also regaled the media with the funniest part of this past weekend’s ROC.
“For some reason everybody was forgetting what gear to put their car in when they were leaving the staging area on Sunday,” he said. “Scott Speed literally drove through (Helio) Castroneves in the staging area and wrecked two cars.
“My little brother (Kyle Busch) thought he was in first gear, but he was in fast reverse and he backed into another car. I was like, ‘Guys, why are we all so nervous as the American team?’”