When Kurt Busch signed with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019, it appeared as a possible one-year run that would complete a solid 19-year career with one last shot at wins and a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
But even before his victory Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, the 40-year-old appeared rejuvenated after spending the previous five seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing where he ran well but didnât have the impact nor influence at a four-car organization that he could have at the two-car Ganassi stable.
Armed with a race-winning trophy, Busch has locked himself into a playoff run that he hopes lasts longer than that of 2018, when he advanced out of the first two rounds before being eliminated when the playoff field was cut from eight to the four competing for the title in the final race.
The hopes of success at Ganassi now appear they will last more than just one season, although no deal has been signed for the 2004 Cup Series champion to drive the No. 1 Cup car in 2020.
Monster Energy, which sponsors Busch for several races, still has to decide whether to return as it evaluates its NASCAR spend, according to the companyâs sports marketing director, Mitch Covington. Monsterâs sponsorship of NASCARâs top series ends after this year as the organization transitions to a new model with no series naming rights but tiers of sponsors for certain assets across the sanctioning body, tracks and possibly broadcast partners.
There is no doubt that Monster loves its association with Busch, having moved with him from SHR to Ganassi and liking his fierce persona that at times drives him to victories and at other times lands him in trouble.
âFor me it’s a matter of just having the dominoes line up and everybody fall together and to make it happen,â Busch said after the win Saturday.
âI guess the easiest way to move things forward is request for proposals are going out (this week)Â with sponsors, with manufacturers, with team owner.Â âŠ This 1 team is a powerful team, and it would be stupid not to keep this group together. And that’s part of my leverage, but at the end of it, we just want to make it work for all parties.â
The pairing with crew chief Matt McCall has worked well as Busch sits seventh in the standings, the same spot â but with 17 more points (618) â than he was a year ago. McCall, a short-track driver who once appeared in line for a Cup ride for former team owner Robert Yates, has seemed to quickly gain the confidence of Busch.
That confidence didnât waver after a missed opportunity at Daytona two weeks ago, when McCall had Busch pit from the lead after NASCAR had indicated it would restart the race on the next lap despite threatening skies. But after Busch pitted, NASCAR decided to park the cars because of lightning. The race never restarted and a potential then 31st Cup victory slipped through his hands whenÂ Justin Haley, who assumed the race lead from Busch, was declared the winner.
âWhen he starts talking, he tells you we’re coming in, we’re going to win, it’s definitely a confidence booster for sure,â said McCall, whose previous driver Jamie McMurray had only 336 points at this point last season. âHe’s almost delivered and he delivered (at Kentucky), so it’s been pretty fun this first half of the season.â
Teaming Busch with a driver who professes to know little about the cars â Kyle Larson has long been known as a driver who straps in and drives â has given Ganassi a good mix. The organization didnât win last year; its most recent win prior to Kentucky having come in September 2017 with Larson at Richmond.
âWhether you’re knocked down or whether it’s a lateral move or whether it was an upgrade, you can look at it in many different ways,â Busch said about his move. âWhen the contract was struggling at SHR to come together, I called Chip Ganassi, and it took 30 minutes, and it was done.Â And away we went.
âTo me that meant respect. It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.â
The team can see that in Busch. Some would attribute the Kentucky win to Busch having taken four fresh tires on his final pit stop, setting up for more grip on the overtime restart. McCall dismissed that idea.
âI donât think the tires mattered,â McCall said. âWe had the guy to win the race. âŠ Weâve got a wheelman now.â