By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway ended up like pole sitter Kurt Busch’s last win at the 2-mile circuit in 2015, rain-shortened. However, he ended up third this time around, leading 46 of 133 laps.
Busch’s third-place rounded out a 1-2-3 sweep for Stewart-Haas Racing, with Clint Bowyer scoring his second win this season and Kevin Harvick finishing second. This marked the team’s first ever feat since debuting in 2009.
It’s the 2004 Premiere Series champion’s third top-five in the last six races, gaining ground on sixth-place pointsman Martin Truex, Jr., who ended up in 18th.
Kurt described his performance as a satisfying one, with no flaws on his No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion.
“We had an excellent day all the way through. No big mistakes, no rough moments. Pit stops were solid, adjustments were solid,” Kurt said.
“Restarts, I’d say three quarters of the time I was on the inside lane, so that might have been a little bit where we were pinned down. But you have to make do with what you have, how the chips fall. I’m happy with our effort today.”
All 46 laps led by Kurt came at the start, notably pulling away from the likes of Bowyer and Ryan Blaney by almost three seconds.
His sizable lead evaporated twice due to a competition caution on Lap 25 and a two-car crash 12 laps later.
On the restart, Kurt faced pressure from Blaney and duked it out for several laps until Kurt lost the race lead, ultimately settling in seventh for Stage 1.
Kurt pitted under caution for four tires, fuel, and for a wedge and tire pressure adjustment, restarting the race in 10th.
From there, he rapidly worked his way up to the top-five and ran as high as third when he passed Paul Menard on the 101st lap.
The pole sitter would hang on to that track position for the rest of the stage, and scored eight stage points, adding his total to 12 this afternoon.
Rain became imminent for the competition, deciding what will get their cars in front to assure a great result. The SHR trio pitted and retained the top-three spots heading into the final stage.
Before mother nature won the battle, Kurt had to defend his spot against Kyle, who came from the rear of the field to crash the SHR party. It wasn’t mean to be for Kyle as Kurt held off third, securing the podium sweep.
“To finish third, rain shortened, of course you always want to go back racing again, but to see the two cars in front of me at the end, the 4 and the 14, that’s a big day for Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Kurt on top-three sweep.
“It’s very special to finish 1-2-3. Tried to get to your outside when we were on the track, maybe get a picture with the 14, 4 and 41 to symbolize such a special day at Michigan. To win at Stewart‑Haas for Ford 1-2-3, it’s a huge day.”
Under the radar for much of the season, Kurt added that while his team haven’t had their “All-Star” performance, he’s proud of their efforts after 15 races.
“We’ve been consistent this year,” he said. “We haven’t had that super perfect All-Star type day. We’ve chiseled away at being consistent, not making mistakes, and our day will come. We just have to put ourselves in position more often,” Kurt said. “One of the times off pit road I came out fourth and then a car stayed out in front of us, that put me to the fifth spot. I’m like, Well, one of those times when things just don’t quite go your way. We had a fast car.
“Again, it’s easy to smile and go into this off week and celebrate a Stewart-Haas 1-2-3, it’s very special.”
Kurt will look to end his winless streak on June 24th at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, and score his first win in ‘Wine Country’ since 2011.