Three-time winner at MIS, Kurt Busch, 41, brings 'shot in the arm' to Chip Ganassi Racing

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, Mich. — Kurt Busch locked up a spot in the 16-driver playoffs with a win last month at Kentucky for Chip Ganassi Racing.

And Busch certainly knows his way around Michigan International Speedway’s two-mile track, winning three times.

Kurt Busch (1) and Kevin Harvick practice Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

Busch last won at MIS in June 2015 for Stewart-Haas Racing. He competed for SHR for five years, winning at least one race each year, including the Daytona 500 in 2017.

Ganassi brought the 41-year-old Busch on board this season to become teammates with Kyle Larson.

“He’s given us a big shot in the arm,” Ganassi said before Saturday’s final practice session. “Kurt has plenty of experience. He’s been with a lot of teams. You bring a guy in like that and it just takes one little spark. He just picked up that whole (No.) 1 team. He picked up that whole team by the bootstraps, and obviously brought them to Victory Lane. It was the first win for a lot of those guys on that team.”

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Busch is thrilled to be with Ganassi.

“It’s been a perfect fit,” Busch said. “I enjoy the conversations with him, his candid approach. There’s no B.S. He’s always there with a phone call or he’s there physically. It gives you that push to go find more speed because of how hands on he is. I like being involved with the team and finding speed wherever we can, whether it’s pit crew or spending time in the wind tunnel with the guys. Ultimately, I know my job is to drive and be behind the wheel and make the decisions out on the track.

“We’ve had a good year so far. We’ve been very consistent and it’s surprising. We came out of the gate stronger than I thought, and then it seemed like we were back on our heels for a little bit, and now with the race win at Kentucky, this team, a young group of guys, we’re now winners and they want more. I can tell that they are just fueled up and ready to go.

“We have a few races left in the regular season, the playoffs are ahead of us, and I just see this opportunity ahead of us and I want to make sure we maximize it. That’s why I continue to push harder with crew members, with team personnel, with meetings, and trying to do the best we can for Chip, and bring home more wins and a shot at this championship.”

So, did Busch have any concerns joining Ganassi since the Chevrolet Camaro struggled in its first year last season.

“I didn’t,” Busch said. “For me, racing with Stewart-Haas last year we had a good run through the playoffs, made it all the way to Phoenix, the cutoff race to get to the Homestead championship, so I never really focused on where the competition was, it was just all about the team I was with. Then, when I switched, I had a clean slate, no preconceived notions on where the Camaro was, so going into the year I just drove and went after it like it was my car, my team.

“As the season’s progressed, yes, we’ve seen some weaknesses here or there and we’re trying to get those things ironed out. I know there’s a new design (Chevrolet Camaro) coming from 2020. Hendrick engine, they’re finding new things to create better horsepower, better cooling, so it’s always a work in progress no matter what.”

Busch finished second in the June race at MIS. He qualified 13th for Sunday’s race (3 p.m., NBCSN) in his No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro. He was 16th-fastest in practice Saturday afternoon.

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Sure, Busch has won the NASCAR Cup championship in 2004 for Livonia businessman Jack Roush, along with the Daytona 500 in 2017, but battling his younger brother Kyle Busch — the 2015 series champion — for the win in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway was a highlight for him.

“It was huge, what an epic battle with my little brother,” Kurt Busch said. “I always look at him as another competitor, but there’s something about that sibling rivalry and wanting to come out on top. I just felt like, ‘he’s going to give me room, he’s going to give me room, he’s got to give me room, I hope he gives me room.’

"It was that feeling of trust and love, and here we were in that battle in that Turn 4 at Kentucky and he gave me just enough room.

“It was really a fantastic finish that I’m proud of, and to win at Kentucky too, I had never won there, so I got to check that off the list at the same time.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com