Busch Returns to Where It All Started in 2000

May 28, 2009

DOVER, Del. (May 26, 2009) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch will be making his 18th career start at Dover International Speedway in Sunday's Autism Speaks 400. The high-banked "Monster Mile" is the site of Busch's first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

"Some days it seems just like yesterday and others it feels like it was a really long time ago," Busch said of the Sept. 24, 2000 race, an event in which he started 10th and finished 18th. "Things were moving so fast for me back then.

"That was a pretty cool weekend for a 22-year-old kid there at Dover in 2000," recalled Busch, who will be making career start No. 305 on Sunday at Dover. "I was running for the Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year and was third in the overall points when I got the call to drive the 97 car (at Roush Racing).

"Only 11 months before that, I was just a successful young short-tracker living in Las Vegas and still holding down a job with the water department. We'd won the championship in the NASCAR Southwest Series in '99 and I was the youngest driver to ever win the title. We got the call to drive the No. 99 truck and I had run only 20 races or so (21) when I was put in the 97 Cup ride.

"I can remember reading a headline back then that said, ‘Busch's Career Skyrocketing Into the Stratosphere,'" said Busch, who now has the 2004 series championship, along with 19 career race wins on his resume. "That pretty much said it all. I'd gone from being a big fish in a little pond on the short tracks to a Truck Series race winner and leading rookie in only a matter of a few months. Then I was straight into the Cup ride, without ever even running a single Busch Series race.

"That was a special weekend at Dover, for sure," said Busch, currently third in the Sprint Cup point standings, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by 115 points. "We won the pole for the Truck Series race, but wrecked during the final practice. We had to pull the backup out and start from the rear of the field without turning a single lap of practice in it.

"I remember just taking it easy for the first few laps to make sure everything was cool," Busch continued. "Then we just set sail. We'd raced up into the top five after only 50 laps. We kept up the pace and at the end it came down to a big battle between Mike Wallace and me. He was leading with only a couple of laps to go and we were right on his bumper. I made the move to pass him on the outside and he tried to block me and wound up spinning himself out. So we wound up coming from last to first and won that race in our backup truck.

"We'd already had the Cup car there testing it a week earlier and had turned in some really fast laps," recalled Busch, currently enjoying a 185-point "buffer" over 13th-place David Reutimann in the standings. "That Friday, before we won the Truck Series race, we qualified the Cup car in the 10th spot.

"I remember really looking forward to the Saturday morning practice, but it never happened because a storm came through the area. We got an extra hour of practice that afternoon after the Nationwide Series race was over and got her dialed in the best we could. At least we thought we did. It had been overcast all during Saturday's practice and was still that way when Sunday's race started. The car started out really loose, and we adjusted to tighten it up. Then the sun broke through the clouds and we had a super tight racecar. We ran the last 125 laps under the green and I really had my hands full. We held on, kept her out of the wall and finished 18th. We accomplished all our goals there that weekend."

And who was the crew chief for Kurt's debut in Cup racing? None other than former champion crew chief-turned popular Fox Sports broadcaster Jeff "Hollywood" Hammond.

In his 17 prior starts at Dover, Busch's record holds two top-five finishes and four top-10s. His best finish to date is the fourth he recorded in the fall of 2006. He started on the outside pole and finished 20th in last June's race and came back to start fourth and finish 34th in last September's battle.

"We had the dry-break (fueling system) go bad in the first race at Dover last year and never had a chance to show how strong our car was," Busch offered. "In the fall race, we got crashed on the very first lap and lost several laps getting the car repaired.

"We're heading in there with a different attitude this time around," said Busch. "We have a much stronger program overall and we're looking to be much more competitive at Dover this weekend."

This weekend's Dover International Speedway action gets under way on Friday with practice set from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Friday at 3:10 p.m. (live on Speed-TV & MRN Radio). Saturday's schedule calls for practice from 11:30.m. till 12:15 p.m. (live on Speed-TV) and from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. (live on Speed-TV). Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 (400 laps, 400 miles) on the "Monster Mile" is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 2:00 p.m. Race No. 13 of 36 points-paying events on the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.