When Kurt Busch traveled to Phoenix International Raceway with his father as a youngster and stood in front of Rusty Wallace’s pit to have a photograph taken, he never envisioned succeeding the 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion in the No. 2 Miller Lite car. But in 2006, Busch did succeed his hero at Penske Racing.
Busch began his second season with the Roy McCauley-led Miller Lite Dodge team in 2007, until Pat Tryson took control of the squad at mid season after McCauley stepped aside due to his wife’s illness. With two victories – at Pocono and at Michigan – and 14 top-10 results, Busch enjoyed another solid season finishing seventh in the Chase for NASCAR’s NEXTEL Cup.
At age 29, Busch already has a Cup championship on his resume, to go along with 17 victories, 56 top-five and 105 top-10 finishes, as well as an IROC title. Busch certainly skyrocketed to the top of the stock car racing world early in his career and he’s been able to maintain a high level of performance since he burst onto the scene.
Of course, it’s been no secret that the Las Vegas native, who began racing Dwarf Cars at age 15 so he and his father could do something together, has always traveled in the sport’s fast lane. He won the Nevada State Dwarf Car Rookie-of-the-Year title and captured the Las Vegas Speedway Park Dwarf Car Championship in 1994. A year later, he walked off with the Nevada State Dwarf Car title and successfully defended his Dwarf Car Championship at Las Vegas
By the end of the 1996 season, Busch had won the Legends Cars National Rookie-of-the-Year title and the Legends Cars Western States Championship. He also was crowned the champion in the Hobby Stock, Legends Car and Dwarf division at Las Vegas Speedway Park.
By 1997, Busch was concentrating on obtaining as much seat time as possible. He competed in a variety of divisions that season, including Late Models, American Race Trucks, Legends Cars and Dwarf Cars. Busch also started five races on the Southwest Tour.
In 1998, Busch’s Dwarf Car was merely a memory and with the exception of a few races in a Legends Car, he focused his attention on full-size race cars. During the season, he recorded 15 victories over 18 races in the Legends Cars and Grand American Modified Series. When the year ended, he was the Southwest Series Rookie of the Year with one victory, three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in only 17 races.
It was Busch’s success during the 1999 season that resulted in his move to the East Coast and a chance to compete in one of NASCAR’s top three series. That year, Busch was crowned the Southwest Series champion, as he added six victories to his resume, including four straight. He also finished eighth in his first Winston West race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Busch’s accomplishments earned him a spot in Jack Roush’s “Gong Show,” which determined who Roush hired to drive an entry in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series. Busch was the outstanding participant and it led to him signing a multi-year contract with Roush Racing.
In Busch’s rookie campaign in the Truck Series, he turned heads with his season-long performance that netted him Rookie-of-the-Year honors and a second place finish in the point standings. His stellar season produced four victories and four pole positions. Busch also made his Cup debut that year, qualifying 10th and finishing 18th at Dover in September.
By 2001, Busch was a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s top series and on his way to stock car racing stardom. In that first full Cup season, he won more than $2.1 million, producing three top-five and six top-10 finishes and one pole. It was 2002, however, that’s considered Busch’s breakthrough year. That season he totaled four victories with three of them coming in the season’s final five weeks. In just two full seasons, Busch had pushed his winnings to more than $6.2 million.
Busch’s pace didn’t slow the next season. For the second straight year, he totaled four victories, nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes, and it was that season that set the stage for his championship year in 2004.
The title-winning season for Busch was a picture of consistency. He earned three victories and one pole to go along with 10 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes, but he got stronger as the season went along. He scored top-10 results in nine of the final 10 races to edge Jimmie Johnson in the closest championship finish in NASCAR history.
Even though Busch didn’t repeat as the series champion in 2005, he did contend for the title. With three victories, nine top-five and 18 top-10 finishes, Busch locked down 10th in the standings.
Busch concluded his first season with Penske Racing and his Roy McCauleyled Miller Lite team in 2006 with a 16th-place finish in the point standings. In his first year with the team and a first-year crew chief, Busch earned his fifth career victory at Bristol, moving him into a tie for third on the all-time victory list at the high-banked short track. He recorded six poles – a single-season career high – and produced the most top-10 starts with 24. Busch also made his debut in the Busch Series with two victories and a pole.
Looking to build on last season’s second-half momentum with the Miller Lite Dodge team in 2008, Busch will once again get an early start to his racing season. He’ll make his second Rolex 24 sports car start at Daytona in January with Team Penske IndyCar teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, competing for Penske-Taylor Racing.
Then the former series champion will focus on the ’08 Sprint Cup season as he, Tryson and team engineer Brian Wilson try to make victory circle a frequent home for the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.