Kurt Busch focused on defending Daytona title

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Jan 23, 2018 at 6:13 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Excuse Kurt Busch for daydreaming sometimes.

The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Ford often recalls his 2017 Daytona 500 victory — which he calls a fairytale — with all his sponsors and others in attendance. It has also made him more determined than ever to add a second Daytona victory.

“I’ve had family members ask me if I had less pressure going back to Daytona,” he said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “To me, I feel more pressure to defend it properly. I want to go back-to-back and bring it home again for Monster, for Ford and everybody at Stewart-Haas. You want to give it the same attention to detail as you would if you hadn’t won it and was going after it really hard.”

There have been only three drivers — Richard Petty in 1973-74, Cale Yarborough in 1983-84 and Sterling Marlin in 1994-95 — who have repeated as Daytona 500 champion.

While Busch has 29 career victories, including five at Bristol, and the 2004 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series championship, he said winning back-to-back at Daytona is an entirely different challenge.

“There are so many factors involved,” he said. “Whether it’s manufacturers’ changes from year to year, the engine changes, it’s a whole new ballgame with the new ride-height rule. You’re going to see cars with a whole new style of setup. That gets me motivated because when there is something new, you want to be on the cutting edge and be the first to figure it out.”

He also expressed a desire to be the first driver to win on the roval, the combination of a road course and oval, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the first NASCAR playoff race in September.

While Daytona has proven to be a hard race to repeat, Busch feels it’s now easier to repeat as champion. It was also easier for him to call Martin Truex Jr. the man to beat last season.

“I called it in July where Truex had all the bonus points,” Busch said. “I said, ‘Guys, he’s pretty much going to (the final race at) Homestead now. The way they were running at all the mile and half tracks, I won’t say I predicted it, but …. Under this system, I think it’s slightly easier to repeat with the bonus points and stage wins.”

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