NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kurt Busch rebounds for arguably his best Sprint Cup season

Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in April at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va.
Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in April at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va. AP

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch has won more races in a season and claimed more prize money in a season.

He’s had more top-five and top-10 finishes, won more poles and finished on the lead lap more often.

Busch even wore the Cup crown in 2004, but he insists that 2015 might be the best season of a 16-year career racing at NASCAR’s highest level.

“I feel like I’ve got a stronger car than when I won the championship,” Busch said during a stop last month at Crown Center’s Sea Life Aquarium.

Statistically, the consistency Busch has shown this season bares that out.

He boasts an average start position of 10.0, which is the best of his career.

Busch’s average finish in 27 races this season is 10.9, which also is the best finish of his career.

“It’s been great to go to the track with (crew chief) Tony Gibson and our whole group of guys, knowing that we’ve got a shot to sit on the pole, a shot to lead laps and to go for wins,” Busch said. “That’s what it’s all about as a driver. I feel very blessed to have this chance with Stewart-Haas (Racing). Hopefully, we are making the best of it.”

Busch, who will race in the Hollywood Casino 400 at 1:15 p.m. Sunday at Kansas Speedway, is tied for fifth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup driver’s points standings.

He owns a 10-point lead on ninth-place Ryan Newman.

Busch finished eighth during the spring race at Kansas Speedway, where his best finish was a runner-up performance in the fall of 2013. He owns five top-10s in 19 career starts on the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

The top eight drivers in the Contender Round, which started last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and concludes Oct. 25 at the unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway, advance to the Eliminator Round.

From there, the drivers and their teams will jockey to finish in the top four spots during another three-race battle with the victors earning a chance to race for the Cup title Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I feel like we are a team that is capable,” Busch said. “We’re not the overall favorites and we’re not underdogs. Once we get through the first two rounds, once you get to the elite eight, that’s when you see the who’s who, and we hope to be in that round.”

Busch’s season started under a dark cloud. He was suspended for the first three races as authorities in Delaware investigated an assault complaint filed by an ex-girlfriend in November 2014.

No charges were filed in the case and Busch insists that he didn’t allow it to be a distraction.

“It really hasn’t, because I knew all along that things would work out,” Busch said. “The team’s strength has been my scapegoat, so to speak. It’s great to go to the track and know we’re going to be competitive.”

Busch said the pieces for this season’s success started to come together during the final 10 races of the 2014 season.

“It’s great to see the fruits of that labor now there for us to enjoy and to make a championship run,” Busch said.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer