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Consistency after Ganassi Move Could Help Kurt Busch Earn Coveted Brickyard Win

Sure, 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch hasn’t won this season, but he’s no stranger to Victory Lane when it comes to big races.

His last two wins were the Daytona 500 in 2017 and the Bristol night race in 2018, two marquee NASCAR races. Go back to 2010, and Busch adds the Coca-Cola 600 and the All-Star race to his winning resume.

Busch has another box in the win column he desperately wants to check off: the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Sept. 8 race he helped to promote to area business and civic leaders during a visit June 28 to Indianapolis.

“Indianapolis is a crown jewel event whether it’s the (Indy) ‘500’ or the ‘400,’ Busch said. “Our Daytona race, Indy, Darlington. We want this. Trust me.”

Busch is no stranger to success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His performance at the Brickyard mirrors his underrated success of the 2019 season: No wins, but a trend of consistency. In 18 starts at one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races, Busch has six top-10’s, including a sixth-place finish in 2018. He also led 19 laps last year after starting fourth. He has completed 92 percent of the Cup Series laps he has run at Indy.

Aside from the NASCAR success, Busch has experience in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. In 2014, he started 12th, finished sixth and was the Rookie of the Year while driving an Andretti Autosport entry. He also knows his new boss in NASCAR this season – Chip Ganassi – has a certain expectation for Indy.

Team owner Ganassi is also no stranger to success at Indy in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. Aside from his five Indy 500 wins, Ganassi won the 2010 Brickyard with Jamie McMurray under the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing banner and saw near wins slip away with 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya in his No. 42 stock car in 2009 and 2010.

With the new aerodynamic package coming to Indianapolis in September, this year’s event at The Racing Capital of the World is a big unknown. The 2019 race comes after two consecutive exciting Cup Series races at IMS.

The wild 2017 race, won by Kasey Kahne, featured 14 cautions and 10 lead changes, including Jimmie Johnson’s exciting but failed three-wide pass for the lead in Turn 3 late in the race. The 2018 race had 10 cautions and 14 lead changes, including winner Brad Keselowski’s door-banging pass for the lead down the backstretch with two laps to go.

Busch said he hopes the recent NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Indianapolis, which have featured a similar aerodynamic package, are signs of what is to come. The 2019 aerodynamic package features reduced horsepower and more downforce, with the hopes of creating more passing. The last two Xfinity Series races with a similar rules package have featured a combined 30 lead changes, and in each race the margin of victory was around one-tenth of a second.

“I’m hopeful that it creates that side-by-side action where we see the cars and drivers make mistakes with sparks flying and smoke flying,” Busch said. “That unknown feel of how the cars will draft and that close racing action that we all want to see and feel as NASCAR fans and drivers.”

Busch said he also will look at the flat-track races from this season to compare how he will perform at Indy. His 11th place finish at Pocono, which has a turn modeled after Indianapolis, and his second-place finish at Michigan could be a good sign of what’s to come for the No. 1 Chevrolet team. Busch hopes to strike the key balance of horsepower and handling Sept. 8.

“You got to balance both to be successful,” he said. “You got to have the horsepower built, and Hendrick has done a great job on the engine side. We know with the Camaro we can do a little bit better with it, and so you got to find that right speed balance. And with the asphalt surface at Indianapolis, it’s really abrasive and chews up the tires, so you got to do tire management.”

If Busch strikes that perfect balance, he could land in Victory Lane for the 31st time in his career and first with Chip Ganassi Racing. He would continue a streak of winning a race in all but three full-time Cup Series seasons with four different teams.

Busch entered 2019 in unfamiliar territory. After five years at Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch made the switch to Ganassi’s No. 1 car. He left a Ford team to be reunited with Chevrolet in the second year of its Camaro in the Cup Series.

Busch, 40, has won a race in all but three of his 18 previous full-time Cup Series seasons. But he has just six wins since 2012. Those recent numbers haven’t stopped Busch from being one of the best in 2019, even if people didn’t expect it. Busch didn’t even expect it. He is eighth in the Cup standings after 17 races this season.

“I honestly expected a little bit more of a struggle, but the consistency and the clarity of how the team has been working has been great,” Busch said. “For me on track, they see where my strengths and weaknesses are a little bit better, I think, than what Stewart-Haas Racing was for me.

“So, whether it was long-run speed at this track or short run speed at this track, and then gaining the stage points, the Ganassi team on the No. 1 car has managed it a little bit better.”

The 2019 statistics don’t show a driver with a new team and a new manufacturer late in his career. Instead, they show a consistent driver looking to have a big season. Busch has nine top-10’s in 17 races, including four top-five finishes. He has finished worse than 13th just twice.

Better yet, Busch’s 10th-place average finish is third best in the series, behind brother Kyle Busch and defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, respectively. Last year, the No. 1 car had an average finish of 18.9 in all of 2018 with McMurray behind the wheel.

So what gives? Busch credits the people at Chip Ganassi Racing, specifically crew chief Matt McCall and Max Jones, the managing director. The team members have been together for a while and created a bond. After Busch came onboard and finished second at the second race of the season in Atlanta, he said he fused even more with the team.

Busch also said the new aerodynamic package has rewarded Chip Ganassi Racing. He said this rules package better suits his engineer-centric race team, and with more involvement from Chevrolet, he performs better on track.

“I think Ganassi enjoyed the switch to this because they might have not had the downforce and sideforce as strong as some of the other teams were last year,” Busch said. “I think some of the rules changed in favor of Ganassi. It seems like the tires, this year, I’ve got a better read on at the track, and then we’ve had a lot of good luck on our side.”

NASCAR week at IMS kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 4 with the first of two nights of the Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink on The Dirt Track at IMS and features the Xfinity Series’ Indiana 250 and FGL Fest Saturday, Sept. 7 before NASCAR Cup Series stars take to the track Sunday, Sept. 8 for the last race of the NASCAR regular season.

Busch’s future after 2019 remains unknown. He signed a one-year deal to drive the No. 1 for Ganassi. Considering Busch’s history of expanding his racing portfolio, which includes the ‘500,’ NHRA Pro Stock and the Rolex 24 At Daytona, we could see Busch in new rides. He went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago with his boss, and he said one car he has yet to get in is a USAC Midget.

“That’s quite possibly the last thing I need to do is check off a sprint car or a midget on the dirt,” he said. “I grew up on dirt in little dwarf cars, but they weren’t the big, high horsepower cars of the USAC Midgets and Sprint Cars. I could possibly, but man, I’m 40 years old now. You can’t teach this old dog too many new tricks.”

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