By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 16
Career Wins: 28
Biggest Accomplishment: 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then Nextel Cup Series) champion
Fresh off of a season that saw him break an all-time record for consistency and an offseason that brought a wedding with wife Ashley, Kurt Busch appears to be in a good position heading into a transitionary 2017 with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
For the first time since his final year with Roush Racing in 2005, the elder Busch brother will pilot a Ford in the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season.
While that first foray with the ‘Blue Ovals’ proved fruitful with a 2004 Cup Series championship –the first championship awarded in the Chase– the Busch that will be seen behind the wheel this season appears to be a far cry different than the one seen in that era.
That’s not too say that Busch has lost his talent behind the wheel. The Las Vegas, Nev., native has proven as good as ever in recent years, making NASCAR history last season when he went a record 22 races before finishing a race off of the lead lap.
The difference between the Busch seen then and the Busch seen now isn’t seen on the track, but off of it.
For much of his career, the elder Busch brother (and, to a lesser extent, younger brother Kyle Busch) has been the source of varying levels of controversy.
The issues began in 2002, when a crash with veteran Jimmy Spencer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway led Busch to call Spencer “a decrepit old has-been, or maybe I should say a never-was.” The remarks fueled a rivalry that led Spencer to punch Busch in the face the following season at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch lost rides with both Roush and Team Penske due to his issues –the first following a reckless driving arrest in 2005, and the latter after a string of issues with the media and poor results in 2011– and Nevadan’s name again made headlines in 2014 when he was accused of committing an act of domestic violence on ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. The incident led to NASCAR briefly suspending Busch at the start of 2015 amid court proceedings.
In the two years since his most recent incident, Busch has gone quiet, settling down and rarely stirring up noise while letting his results on the racetrack speak for themselves.
The 38-year-old’s results haven’t proven stellar, at least not by the standards set by teammate Kevin Harvick, but Busch has managed four victories, 25 top fives and three playoff berths in as many seasons with SHR.
Busch’s average finish of 11.1 and 12.0, respectively, in the last two seasons have been the best in his 16-year career, topping his previous best of 12.5 set in the 2004 championship run.
To say it simply, Busch has been among the most consistent drivers in the paddock. If his No. 41 team can find a way to turn a few more top 10s into top fives, and a few more top fives into victories, then a birth in the Championship 4 in 2017 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.