“I wish I had all the answers,” scoffed Kurt Busch during one of the many dog days of NASCAR summer 2018 when asked what the veteran driver had going for 2019. “I love the way that Monster Energy has supported me over the years in NASCAR. They’ve told me that they’re with me and we’re going to go to a competitive top-tier team in 2019. That’s where I’m at with all this. I’m hoping it works out.”
A slow train coming, it did.
As we learned earlier this week, Kurt Busch will climb into the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet of the Chip Ganassi Racing outfit come the drop of the green at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17. A former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Daytona 500 winner and “That’s NASCAR” Entertainment fixture, we spoke with Busch from his winter house in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he and wife Ashley were putting in some time on her polo horses and soaking up the sun.
Not sure if Richard Petty did it this way, but Kurt Busch, as we’ve all come to learn, has his own way of doing things.
There’s been an impressive reaction to your move to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019. The announcement seemed to wave the green flag on the rush to Daytona in a few months’ time. Thoughts?
Yeah, I think it went great. There has been a lot of support and enthusiasm from the fans about the switch. To have Monster Energy and to get the No. 1 car was a cool branding moment, but at the end of the day it’s about performance and as Chip Ganassi said to me, “Kurt, I want you. I want you, as a champion, to come over to this team.” And the Stewart-Haas Racing offer that I got for ’19 wasn’t all that exciting and we bounced. We made the move. I’m really looking forward to working with, what I believe is a future champion, in Kyle Larson and using my experience to get these cars dialed-in.
Do you and Kyle know one another at all?
A little bit. On-track experience has been solid with the respect that he has shown me and the times that I’ve helped him on-track has been, I think, solid. Now it is time to get together outside the track simply to just share a beer and get together and hang out and tell some war stories.
You’re a NASCAR champion and Kyle is a potential champion. With all the collective racing wisdom and experience you’ve gleaned from a 20-year career, I would think that could be quite helpful to Kyle as well as the entire Ganassi race effort.
I agree 100 percent, and for me, I felt like it was one of the reasons to make a change and move away from SHR. After 20 years in the sport, I’m not necessarily passing the torch, but at least they can utilize the experience that I have to maybe teach somebody that is willing to learn about it. At SHR they’ve got a great fold of drivers that have experience, but this is a unique opportunity. There are also some IndyCar aspirations and also some sports car aspirations that I have. The way that Ganassi jut welcomed me in with open arms, it made a lot of sense.
As the summer burned off and you were somewhat undecided as to where you might race in ’19, did you come to a fork in the road? It could have been SHR, it could have been Ganassi, it could have been Formula E …
Yeah, I’ve been at the pros and cons intersection before. I’d stay with the team or I’d leave the team and this time around it was 99 percent pro-Ganassi when it came down to it, and so that’s how I looked forward. The decision was made pretty early this year and once we got all the little stuff settled… Man, I was running for a championship at SHR and Chip Ganassi said, “You know, while you’re still championship-eligible, we’ll just hold off on the announcement.” So that’s why it took a little bit, I looked at it like, “Man, we need to go big. We need to go with some fun and flashy announcement when we do switch.” Literally, my first day available to work for Chip Ganassi contractually was on December 1st and that’s why we launched now.
Did you know Chip previously? Obviously you know the man through walking through garageland, but has there been any sort of relationship?
Just in crossing paths. Whether it was sports car stuff when I raced in the Rolex or the time that I spent at Indianapolis running IndyCar, Chip and I always had that genuine smile and handshake when we saw each other. Then, there is Felix Sabates, who is a part owner of the team. I’ve known him over the last 15 years and we go to dinner and tell war stories together. It’s neat to jump in there.
As far as the shop and the team and all that, have you got your head wrapped around that or is a bit too early?
I was at the shop yesterday and we did a big announcement for the crew guys before it all went public. I think everybody was blown away by Monster’s energy level with girls brought in and product tastings of different flavors; we had a DJ with lights to kick it off. At the end of it all took the mic and said, “Guys, we’re here to win and it’s about teamwork and it’s about the dedication and commitment to making everything better.” Man, everybody absorbed it and everybody was chomping at the bit to get back to work and to polish up on all areas to take Chip Ganassi Racing to the next level.
You’re back to Chevrolet in 2019. What did you make of the Cup teams running Chevy in ’18?
I feel like right out of the box that Chevrolet struggled and then they made gains throughout the year and Kyle Larson was the fastest car at Darlington for the Southern 500. They didn’t quite execute on pit road to win that race. Yes, there were a few moments of speed, but what we need to have is tons more moments of speed to be in position to pick up the wins. I think that’s what everybody at Ganassi wants to do and what everybody at Chevrolet wants to do.
After 20 years of all of this, you have to start all over again. You good with that?
As fast as the contract came together with Chip Ganassi, that’s all the motivation I needed. He wanted me. There was a forward-thinking process through this. I mean I literally got some seats in cars yesterday and in my mindset, I felt like it was Feb. 1. I feel like Daytona is going to be next week and let’s go after this. There is no lack of motivation from me.