No wonder Kurt Busch likes Bristol Motor Speedway so much.
With five wins, tying him with Jeff Gordon and younger brother, Kyle, for the most victories among active drivers at the track, he sees this Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race as the type of race which best defines the sport. “This sport was based off of guys roughing each other up,” said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion. “That’s good old short-track racing that we see, the good old door slamming, bumper-to-bumper. It’s the heritage of our sport.”
It’s not an attitude fellow drivers always appreciate.
After rubbing fenders with Jimmie Johnson at a recent Pocono race, the five-time NASCAR champion confronted Busch on pit road. For Busch, there wasn’t anything wrong with the way they raced.
“He was really amped up, and felt that I did him wrong,” Busch said. “The response that we got from the race fans, they said it was exciting and that’s what they wanted to see. That’s the intensity and passion that our sport is built off of. This is a bunch of guys running stock cars in the Southeast. This isn’t open-wheel racing where we’re supposed to pass each other clean and be leading by 10 seconds.”
According to Busch, some NASCAR drivers had taken a different attitude of racing over the past decade. It is racing without trading paint or leaving tire marks alongside a rival’s door.
At times, the 33-year-old Las Vegas driver believes he belongs in a different era, when guys like Dale Earnhardt, Geoff Bodine and Davey Allison were fighting tooth-and-nail.
“Times had gotten interesting in the ’90s and 2000s on driver etiquette, what you had to do to race,” he said. “I’m an old-school kind of guy. I laugh and joke with my friends, saying I should have grew up in the ’80s. I would have been a much better guy, because I’m not politically correct.”
The 23-time Sprint Cup winner hopes that old-school attitude will pay off at the new Bristol, where Busch has just one top-five finish in the eight races since the track was resurfaced.
It included a seventh-place finish at the Jeff Byrd 500 in March after making an early charge through the field from a 20th starting spot.
“It was a good day for us with our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge,” said the driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing machine. “We were in good position early on, riding around in third and could see the leaders. We pushed our car hard on some of the restarts trying to get up there and lead a lap. It just didn’t seem we had the mojo to compete. We had another top 10, which is great, but we just want to get up there and try to win one of these things.”
Eighth in the points standings after Sunday’s Carfax 400 at Michigan, and with a win at Sonoma under his belt, Busch can certainly be more aggressive at Bristol.
In fact, he wouldn’t mind if the race — or the bigger picture, the championship — would come down to a battle of the two brothers.
“I think that’s something we’d both look forward to and this sport would definitely embrace,” he said. “I think the other drivers would be egging us both on and it would be a great challenge to see.
“The NFL does a great job playing the Manning brothers against each other. Of course, tennis does a great job with the Williams sisters when they’re playing. Over a 10-week span, it would be great to challenge each other to see who could be the best Busch brother.”