With career goals in perspective, Kurt Busch eyes ultimate sunset ride-off

LOUDON, N.H. – John Elway, Peyton Manning … Kurt Busch?

NASCAR’s most recent winner is well-versed in the fine art of riding off into the sunset after seeing both Broncos quarterbacks famously win their second and final Super Bowls in their last season slinging the pigskin.

Busch, 40, is racing on a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion sits seventh in points standings coming off a thriller of a victory at Kentucky Speedway. With a handful of weeks left before the NASCAR Playoffs, he may be Chevrolet’s best bet for a title in 2019.

Though he has been just a hair below the elite class of the field this season – such as Joe Gibbs Racing’s studs and the pair of former champs at Team Penske – the very nature of NASCAR’s playoff system allows the realistic possibility Busch could grit his way into racing for a title for the first time under this format at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall.

And then it comes down to just three drivers separating him from eternal stock-car glory … and potentially joining his gridiron heroes among the few-and-far-between to win and walk off for good.

“It’s always hard to play ‘what if;’ I don’t want to put too much ahead of it and it would be the ultimate scenario, right?,” Busch said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). ” …  I’ve got a lot of boxes checked off. Even last year, to get my first-ever superspeedway pole at Talladega (Superspeedway), last October; not a lot of guys would put much emphasis in that category, but it’s like all right. Now I have a pole on short tracks, road courses, intermediates, and finally a superspeedway pole.”

Through a career that spans nearly two full decades, most of those boxes are checked, re-checked and checked again once more for good measure.

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But what if that moment comes … and the urge is still gnawing at him to get behind the wheel in 2020? Are there really any boxes left to check that might bring the 31-time Cup Series winner back to competition next year?

“Good question. Another championship ultimately. More playoff wins. And again, the last few years I haven’t led a lot of laps and I want to lead some more laps and be up front,” Busch said. “I have yet to win the Southern 500 and yet to win at Indianapolis. Those are the top two. And if I can find a third for my trifecta, I want to win at Watkins Glen really bad.

” … And so, what would bring me back is if like Monster Energy, Global Poker, GearWrench, and everybody is putting together their advertising campaign and how they want to push to sell more product, that’s where it would hit home for me here. And then I would react to what we want to do together to make sure everybody is feeling the benefits. … I would then be approaching 42, 43 years old. There’s a lot of young talent out there and it would be that chance to maybe pick the guy or the girl who is going to come up and drive after I’m done racing.”

All this is to say that despite any actual contract papers having being signed, it certainly appears Busch will be back in the Chip Ganassi Racing garage next season – whether as a driver or in a more advisory-based role.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m driving in 2020 and beyond,” Busch said. “It would be what I’d want to do to help a program or to give my knowledge and to be part of a team and to make things work here for 2019 and continue to improve whether I’m driving or I’m not, to help all of Ganassi. It’s just a matter of if I’m driving or I’m not. …

“You’re asking me all these fun questions when everything is on a high, when everything is great and we’re coming out of Victory Lane and having fun scavenging rides home and just living at the top level. We’ll see how things all piece together. I don’t have all the full answers, but things are all pointing in the right direction to be teamed-up together (with CGR) and to continue to race and to win races and to run at a championship … But if I’m able to make a run at the championship (this year), that could change things as well, and that wouldn’t happen until the week of Thanksgiving.”

If Busch does follow in the footsteps of Elway and Manning, however, and retire on the spot at Homestead with trophy in hand, only question will remain — whether or not he’ll go to Disney World, less than four hours north of Miami.