A milestone start is in the making for Kurt Busch heading into this weekend’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 5. When the green waves at Indy, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion will achieve 700 starts in the sport’s premier series. The milestone comes in his second full-time season as driver of the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“It’s amazing,” Busch said. “To have this opportunity and to have been blessed to have raced with so many great race teams over the years, just making it past the local track was something that I thought was an achievement because my dad was a local racer. He won a lot. But it was like money, sponsors, and the whole challenge of even getting to like the Southwest Tour and Late Model division, that was even tough for us way back in the past. So, it’s amazing. Twenty years of racing at the top series level and now having 700 starts, I never would have guessed.”
A native from Las Vegas, Nevada, Busch made his Cup debut at Dover Downs International Speedway in September 2000 as driver of the No. 97 John Deere Ford for Roush Racing, replacing Chad Little. After finishing 18th at Dover, Busch competed in seven of the remaining eight Cup races of the season in Roush’s No. 97 Ford, scoring a best result of 13th at Charlotte’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway, before he was promoted to a full-time driving role in 2001. In his first full-time season in the Cup Series, Busch recorded his first pole position at Darlington Raceway in September and achieved three top-five results and six top-10 results throughout the season with a best finish of third at Talladega Superspeedway in April. He finished the year in 27th in the standings, though he did not make the field at Atlanta Motor Speedway in November.
The following year, it took the first six races into the 2002 season for Busch to achieve his first Cup triumph at Bristol Motor Speedway following a late battle against Jimmy Spencer. His first Cup victory came in his 48th series start. Busch went on to win three more races, (Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway), and conclude the season with 12 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes and a final standings result of third. After winning four races, notching 14 top-10 results and finishing 11th in the final standings in 2003, Busch rallied the following season by recording three wins, a pole, 10 top-five results and 21 top-10 results, all while making the inaugural Chase for the Cup and generating enough consistent results to win the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway by eight points over Jimmie Johnson and 16 over Jeff Gordon. The championship was a first for Busch, the first for veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig and the second for team owner Jack Roush.
After winning three races throughout the 2005 season, Busch was suspended and released from Roush Racing two races shy of the season’s conclusion following a confrontation with Maricopa County Sheriff deputies in November prior to the Phoenix race weekend for suspicious DUI driving. Following his departure from Roush, Busch joined forces with team owner Roger Penske as driver of the iconic No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge following the retirement of Rusty Wallace. It took the first five races into the 2006 season for Busch to win for the first time with Penske at Bristol Motor Speedway. Despite the win at Bristol to go along with six poles, seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes, Busch concluded the season in 16th in the final standings after failing to make the Chase.
From 2007 to 2010, Busch continued to drive the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske and won seven races, including the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway followed by the Coca-Cola 600 in 2010 with veteran crew chief Steve Addington. In those four seasons, he also tallied three poles, 30 top-five results, 62 top-10 results and made the Chase in three seasons. His best points result was fourth in 2009 with crew chief Pat Tryson.
Busch remained with Penske for the 2011 Cup season, but he assumed driving responsibilities of the newly formed No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge with Addington remaining as his crew chief while Brad Keselowski, coming off his NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, was assigned to pilot the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge with Paul Wolfe, his championship-winning crew chief, to continue to lead him. Busch kickstarted the new relationship in a new car and with his new sponsors by winning the non-point Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, which marked Busch’s first superspeedway victory of any type. He followed that up by winning the first Gatorade Duel qualifying races and finishing fifth in the Daytona 500. Fifteen races into the season, Busch recorded his first elusive win with the No. 22 team at Sonoma Raceway after leading 76 of the event’s 110-scheduled laps. He would win once more at Dover International Speedway in October and conclude the season with three poles, eight top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes and in 11th in the final standings while making the Chase for the sixth time in his career.
Following a mutual termination of his partnership with Penske, Busch reached a one-year, handshake deal with team owner James Finch to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing in the 2012 season. In his 30-race stretch with Phoenix Racing, Busch achieved two top-10 results, including a season-best third at Sonoma Raceway, while sustaining six DNFs and not competing at Pocono Raceway in June due to being suspended following an off-track encounter with a reporter. After Talladega Superspeedway in October, Busch transitioned to Furniture Row Racing for the remaining six races of the 2012 season, scoring a best result of eighth in back-to-back weekends at Texas Motor Speedway and at Phoenix Raceway, before racing as a full-time driver for the team in 2013. Though he did not record a win, Busch’s full-time season with Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet team was a success as he recorded a pole, 11 top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes and finished 10th in the final standings, all while putting the team in the Chase for the first time.
Despite a productive season with FRR, Busch transitioned to Stewart-Haas Racing as the team’s fourth competitor in 2014 and as driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. Despite a slow start to the first four races of the season, Busch rebounded the following two events by finishing third at Auto Club Speedway and rallying from an on-track altercation with Keselowski to win at Martinsville Speedway following a late battle with Jimmie Johnson. The Martinsville win was the second for Busch along with his first triumph with SHR and the first win for rookie crew chief Daniel Knost. It also snapped his 83-race winless drought dating back to October 2011. He went on to record six top-five finishes and 11 top-10 finishes while concluding the season in 12th in the final standings.
Busch started the 2015 season suspended over allegations of domestic violence under NASCAR’s personal conduct policy, but he was reinstated by NASCAR in March prior to the upcoming race at Phoenix International Raceway, where he finished fifth. Paired with veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, Busch went on to win twice and record 10 top-five finishes, 21 top-10 finishes and three poles before concluding the season in eighth in the standings. From 2016 to 2018, Busch won one race apiece and tallied eight poles, 21 top-five finishes and 58 top-10 finishes with a best result of seventh in 2016 and 2018, all while making the Chase. In between those three seasons, Busch recorded the first Daytona 500 victory for himself and Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 and he recorded the first wins for crew chiefs Johnny Klausmeier and Billy Scott. He also established a record-setting run of lead-lap finishes to the first 22 races of the 2016 season before the streak came to an end the following race at Bristol due to a wreck. When Busch won at Bristol in August 2018, it was his sixth triumph at the track dubbed Thunder Valley and it was the 100th Cup win for the Ford Fusion.
Last season, following his departure from Stewart-Haas Racing at the conclusion of the 2018 Cup season, Busch and longtime partner Monster Energy joined forces with Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team. Through the first half of the season, 18 races, Busch achieved 10 top-10 results. In July, Busch outdueled his brother Kyle on a two-lap shootout to win at Kentucky Speedway for his first win with Ganassi and to record the first NASCAR victory for crew chief Matt McCall. He concluded the season in 13th in the standings despite achieving six top-five results, 18 top-10 results and three stage wins.
Through the first 15 races of the 2020 Cup Series season, Busch has achieved nine top-10 results with a best result of third coming at Auto Club and Darlington, and has recorded a stage win. He is ranked 10th in the regular-season standings and trails points leader Kevin Harvick by 151 points. With 31 Cup career wins, Busch is ranked 27th on the all-time wins list, (seventh among active drivers).
On Sunday, Busch will become the 16th driver to reach 700 career starts in the Cup Series. He is also one of two active competitors set to reach the 700th start milestone in 2020 as Harvick, a former teammate to Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing, is set to reach the mark at Texas Motor Speedway on July 19. For Busch, he will also make his 20th consecutive start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track where Busch has finished in the top 10 six times with a best result of fifth in 2001 and has achieved an average result of 19.42 in his previous 19 starts.
Catch Busch’s milestone start in the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 5 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC.