Race car driver
Born August 4, 1978, in Las Vegas, NV; son of Tom (a salesperson) and Gaye (a public schools employee) Busch. Education: Attended the University of Arizona.
Addresses: Office —Roush Racing, 4600 Roush Place, Concord, NC 28207.
Began racing dwarf cars, c. 1994; won Nevada state championships for racing dwarf cars, 1994-95; won Nevada Dwarf Car championship, 1995; Legend Cars Western States champion, 1996; competed on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series, 1997-99; NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series champion, 1999; signed with Roush Racing, 1999; competed in Craftsman Truck Series, 2000; joined NASCAR's Winston Cup series, 2001; won first pole at a NASCAR race, Mountain Dew Southern 500, 2001; won first NASCAR race, Food City 500, 2002; won Nextel Cup, 2004; signed with Penske Racing South team, 2005.
Awards: National Rookie of the Year, 1996; Rookie of the Year Award, NASCAR Southwest Series, 1998.
Racing on the NASCAR leading series for only five short years, Kurt Busch rose from obscurity to win the first Nextel Cup title in 2004. Driving the number 97 Ford car for Roush Racing, Busch earned
more than $20 million from racing alone by 2005. Though his ascent to the top of NASCAR has not been easy, especially because of conflicts with other drivers, he has been praised for his growing maturity and ability to adjust mid-race.
Busch was born on August 4, 1978, in Las Vegas, Nevada, to a father who had his own interests in racing. Though Tom Busch was a local racing champion in Las Vegas, he supported his family by selling MAC Tools. Kurt Busch's mother, Gaye, supported her husband, and later her sons' interests, in the sport. Busch has a younger brother, Kyle, who also turned pro and later competed against his brother on the NASCAR circuit.
By the time he was a teenager, Busch was interested in racing. While attending middle school, he decided he wanted to become a race car driver. Tom Busch promised to consider letting him race dwarf cars when he was 16 if he earned good grades at school. Busch held up his end of the promise and began racing when he was around 14. He raced in several series in Nevada with his family's help. Busch did well, winning whole series championships on several occasions. Busch won the Nevada Dwarf Car championship in 1995 and he won the Legend Cars Western States championship in 1996. By the late 1990s, he was competing in the Western States Dwarf Car Association Nationals held in his hometown.
Though Busch had aspirations of becoming a professional driver, he also had other goals. When he graduated from Durango High School, he entered the University of Arizona. There, he studied pharmacy because he wanted to be a pharmacist. His inspiration was his mother; since she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, he hoped to help her with his knowledge. While a college student, Busch continued to race. He only attended school for about a year, however, before deciding to focus exclusively on racing.
In 1997, Busch began racing full time. He competed in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series, a semi-professional series. Again, Busch proved up to competition. He was named the rookie of the year in 1998. The following year, he won the Featherlite Southwest Series title, the youngest driver ever to win the honor. His success also showed that it was possible for drivers who come from Nevada to do well.
Busch continued to prove this point when he signed with Roush Racing in 1999. By signing with Roush, he was able to move up to a higher racing series. In 2000, he spent the majority of the racing season competing in the Craftsman Truck Series. This was an entry-level NASCAR series for young drivers. Busch won four races that year; he also finished second in the series' point standings and set several records. Among them was the fact that he was the youngest driver to both win a pole in the series and win a race in the series.
In 2000, Busch competed in seven NASCAR Winston Cup series races. However, he did not win or earn a pole in any races. Despite this lack of success, Roush Racing moved him to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series full time in 2001. Busch proved he was ready; that same year, he won his first pole at the Mountain Dew Southern 500. He finished in the top five in three races, though he also did not finish seven races. Busch earned more than $2 million during the 2001 season.
Busch continued to improve in the 2002 season. He won his first race in 2002, the Food City 500 in Tennessee. Jack Roush, owner of Roush Racing, told Jeff Wolf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "I'd never been prouder of … a young driver. He has adapted quicker to all the things presented to him in racing [than] anybody I've ever worked with." Busch also won three other races: Old Dominion 500, NAPA 500, and Ford 400. In addition, Busch finished in the top five 12 times. He earned more than $3.7 million. Busch's success led to endorsement deals, which brought him more income. By 2003, he was endorsing companies such as Ford, Rubbermaid products, and Coca-Cola.
In 2003, Busch posted four more victories and nine top five finishes, along with eight did not finishes. His victories came in the Food City 500, Auto Club 500, Sirius 500, and Sharpie 500. Busch ended the NASCAR season struggling. He only had one top ten finish after August, a fourth place showing in the Checker Auto Parts 500 in early November. Questions about his character continued to dog him. Busch had several confrontations with another driver, Jimmy Spencer, both on the track and off. Busch also feuded with other drivers, including Terry Labonte and Sterling Marlin.
After the 2003 season ended, NASCAR changed sponsorship of its title series and how the series would determine its champion. The name changed from the Winston Cup to the Nextel Cup. To win the Nextel Cup, drivers had to be in the top ten, based on points, before the last ten races of the season. These ten drivers would be the only ones competing for the Cup, dubbed "The Chase for the Cup, " though all the drivers would still be competing in races.
Busch did well under the new system in 2004. He was one of those drivers able to compete for the Cup. By the end of the season, he had five wins, including the last two races of the season. He also had ten finishes in the top five. However, his season was not always easy. There were several key races where something went wrong with his car. Despite these setbacks, Busch won the inaugural Nextel Cup with his win of the last race of the season.
When Busch returned to racing in 2005, he started out slow with many early season struggles. He crashed in four straight events in March and April. Still, Busch was able to win twice—at the Subway Fresh 500 and Pennsylvania 500—through the first 21 races. His success early in the season put him in position to have a chance at repeating as champion.
During the 2005 season, Busch decided to make a change in who he raced for. Instead of Roush Racing, with whom he had a contract through 2006, Busch signed with Roger Penske and his Penske Racing South team. The contract was to begin in 2007. Busch would be replacing legendary driver Rusty Wallace, who was retiring. Busch asked Roush to release him from his contract so he could race for Penske's group in 2006, but Roush refused. Busch promised to continue to focus on racing for Roush in 2006.
As Busch found success on NASCAR, his immaturity faded and he became more recognized for his abilities as a driver. Roush teammate Carl Edwards told Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe , "He's a guy who can break down a racetrack and run perfect laps repeatedly. I don't think it's his setup specifically. I know Jimmy Fenning [Busch's crew chief] is awesome, but Kurt is just that good of a race car driver. He's truly talented.…"
Associated Press State … Local Wire, August 18, 2004; July 27, 2005.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution , October 31, 2004, p. 7H.
Boston Globe , July 16, 2005, p. C1.
Denver Post , February 20, 2005, p. BB1.
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), April 16, 1999, p. 10C; July 14, 2000, p. 2C; March 26, 2002, p. 1C; August 3, 2003, p. 1C; March 4, 2004, p. 1DD; November 19, 2004, p. 11C; December 2, 2004, p. 1C; April 22, 2005, p. 1C.
New York Times , December 2, 2004, p. D3.
People , April 11, 2005, p. 139.
Sports Illustrated , November 1, 2004, p. 91.
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), November 21, 2004, p. 1C.
Tampa Tribune (Florida), November 12, 2004, p. 7.
Toronto Sun , November 20, 2004, p. S15.
"Busch dominates in Phoenix, " SI.com , http:// sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/racing/04/23/ nascar.phoenix.ap/index.html (May 13, 2005).
"Kurt Busch splitting with Roush, " USA Today , http://www.usatoday.com/sports/motor/ nascar/2005-08-09-busch -roush_x.htm?POE= SPOISVA (August 13, 2005).
"Kurt Busch, " Yahoo! Sports, http://sports.yahoo. com/nascar/nextel/drivers/156 (August 8, 2005).
"Roush Refuses to Release Busch for 2006, " New York Times , http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/ 13/sports/othersports/13nascar.html (August 13, 2005).
"Roush to consider releasing Busch, " SI.com , http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/racing/ 08/15/bc.car.nascar.roush.busch.ap/index.html (August 18, 2005).
— A. Petruso