By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into next month’s 61st running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 18
Career Wins: 30
Biggest Accomplishment: 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion
Coming off of a strong 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Kurt Busch moves to Chip Ganassi Racing and Chevrolet for the 2019 season. Busch had spent the last five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing and the last two with Ford Performance.
Busch replaces Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with backing from Monster Energy. On top of the pit box for the Las Vegas, NV native will be veteran crew chief Matt McCall. McCall has been a crew chief at CGR since the 2015 season. In 145 races, his team has earned 11 top-five and 47 top-10 finishes.
Busch will have just one teammate in 2019, Kyle Larson. At SHR, he had three teammates, with resources spread amongst the teams. During his five-year tenure at SHR, Busch won six races while his teammates won a combined 26 races.
Busch explained that with fewer cars, teams have a better chance to get up to speed quicker, even with a new aero package.
“When you build stuff for two cars versus four, you can move the ship in the ocean a little bit quicker. That’s something I noticed with the Furniture Row guys a few years back with the one-car team. And, if there was a meeting on Monday, you usually had it by that Thursday. It’s still a balance of cost versus making the right decision for the company.
“But with Chip’s passion and the whole group here, there really hasn’t been anybody that’s changed in the overall core group. Even on the No. 42 car, most everybody has stayed the same. That continuity I think will help us a ton with me coming in just to sprinkle in certain areas what I learned from Yates or Ford or the things we were doing at SHR.”
In 2018, Busch won just one race, but earned five pole positions, the most for the 40-year-old since 2006. He also earned six top-five finishes, matching 2017, and 22 top-10s, the most in a single season. Despite the apparent speed, Busch had just three stage wins throughout the entire season. The lack of stage and playoff points were a factor late in the playoffs.
“You have to check all the boxes,” Busch admitted. “Last year, if I had a strong box that we have to duplicate, and Matt knows this, is Stage 1 points. Those are very important because if you can bank those, then you’re not pinned-in on Stage 2 to have to gain points. You can then skip Stage 2 to work toward the end of the race. That’s ultimately the most important prize on getting that trophy at the end of the day.
“Sitting on more poles, winning more races, but ultimately navigating the Playoffs with the pattern that it takes to get to that final four, and a lot of that is done through bonus points.”
As Busch moves to CGR, he becomes the first driver with a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship to drive for the organization. Many expect his expertise to guide himself, Larson, and the entire CGR team into one that could compete for the race wins and the championship on a regular basis.