Busch Comes To Indy On A Roll
August 2, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The 21-year-old phenom from Las Vegas has displayed an incredible amount of talent in just 17 Craftsman Truck races, having posted back-to-back wins at Milwaukee and New Hampshire along with nine top fives and 11 top-10 finishes. Not bad for a kid who began his competitive racing careers seven seasons ago.
"I never got a chance to race go-karts," Busch said. "My mom though they were to dangerous. But my dad and I used to drive go-karts around our cul-de-sac, where he would teach me how to block and pass."
Busch’s father Tom began racing Limited Late Models in 1978, the year Kurt was born and eventually moved up to the Late Model division. In 1992, the elder Busch began a program with Dwarf Cars and won the national championship that same season. Kurt was involved with his father’s team and would find himself behind the wheel two years later. By 1995, at the age of 17, Busch had won the Dwarf Car Nevada State Championship.
"Dwarf Cars are like modified Legends cars because you can work on the shock packages, tires and motors," Busch said. "Having worked with my dad, I learned how to take care of the equipment because if you didn’t, you couldn’t come back and race the next night. It also taught me a lot about chassis set-up.
"It’s amazing how well we’ve run in the Southwest Series and trucks and not due to the lack of competition. Having a background with chassis and engines, it has given me an advantage in getting the car ready to race, which allows me to make as many (practice) laps as possible. Where it has rained and we missed practice -- at Martinsville and Nazareth -- that’s where I’ve had my worst finishes."
On Thursday when the Craftsman Truck Series races at Indiana Raceway Park, it will be the first time that Busch has competed at the .686-mile track. But that does not phase Busch, who is accustomed to the inability to test at tracks on the Craftsman Truck schedule.
"In an effort to keep the costs down in the truck series we’re not allowed to test in advance of a race," said Busch, who has instead raced at venues in Canada and Toledo, Ohio. "There are only four of the tracks on the series this year that I have been to before. We have got just a quick short practice session before we qualify. We've got our game plan set up just like we do at a lot of the other race tracks; to get out there and get as much track time as we can.
"I expect IRP to be a real challenging for a short track with the groove on the outside. It’s a high-traction track. But I feel that watching a lot of the races that have been run at IRP on TV will help me on Thursday."
Another benefit to Busch’s program has been the guidance of Matt Chambers, his 29-year-old crew chief who joined Roush Racing in 1995 and has worked with Joe Ruttman, Mike Bliss and Chuck Bown in the No. 99 Ford in the past.
"I've also got the great experience of Matt Chambers with the setups," Busch said. "They are real conservative when we start the weekend and get more aggressive as we go through so that we are able to run up front in the race. He’s a great guy. It reminds me a lot of working with my Dad."
Chambers, who has led the No. 99 squad since 1988, is pleased with the results Busch has posted and how quickly he has acclimated to the truck series.
"Going into the season I think we all expected a rookie season similar to what (Roush teammate Greg) Biffle had," Chambers said. "We've done way better than I expected and we are having a really good time this year. Kurt is real easy to work with and he learns the tracks very quickly. It usually takes him about 10 laps or so before he is ready to start making changes on the truck. It's made me feel a lot better and feel a lot more confident as a team with a driver that can show our results."
Busch also credits the ease of working with Biffle and the No. 50 crew to speeding the learning curve throughout his rookie season.
"It’s a unique situation," Busch said. "It’s like having one 30-person team to draw from because everyone works together. Roush shoots for a ‘big team effort’ and I think that’s what we’ve accomplished. If I’m having trouble I can ask Greg questions and I’ve been able to help him with setups at Bakersfield and Phoenix.
The big question facing Busch right now is whether he is ready to move up to the Winston Cup series in 2001. Busch’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Chad Little in the No. 97 John Deere Ford.
"Jack asked me whether I’d be ready to go if the opportunity presented itself," Busch said. "Just the fact that I have been considered for this is really giving me a giant confidence boost.
"That's probably what has contributed to a lot of our success in the last five races and hopefully on into the future. I know it’s a big jump -- it may be too soon. But the depth of the personnel at Roush is amazing, and I know they will be able to take a load of the pressure of my shoulders. Being one of the candidates, if they choose me, will be a tough road to go but I think that I'm ready for it and we can put together a package where there would be extensive testing to help me out."
Busch is currently fifth in points, just two points behind defending series champion Jack Sprague and 264 behind teammate and points leader Biffle. He’s already a lock for rookie of the year, but he wouldn’t mind a Roush 1-2 finish in points.
"With only seven races left in the season, I’m still looking at the points race," Busch said. "Right now we’re only 71 points out of second place. But after running eight consecutive weekends, the rest of the schedule is pretty spread which would give me lots of opportunities to test (Winston Cup cars). But until that’s all decided, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens."