Ford Homecoming for Kurt Busch
By: John Singler on January 28, 2017 | 8:00 A.M. EST
Kurt Busch will be back in a Ford this season after winning 14 races and one championship (2004) with the manufacturer from 2002 - 2005.
For NASCAR drivers, a new season is always a time of renewal and a source of unbridled optimism - a chance to right the wrongs of the past and author a new chapter in their careers.
But for Kurt Busch, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series represents a little more than that. It'll be a "homecoming," of sorts, as Stewart-Haas Racing completes the transition from Chevrolet to Ford.
When Busch arrives at Daytona for Speedweeks next month, his No. 41 SHR entry will carry the iconic blue oval ... as will the cars of teammates Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. Busch returns to the Ford camp as the manufacturer's last Cup champion, having won the 2004 title while still racing for team owner Jack Roush.
"It's a special feeling, heading back to Ford," said Busch, who's notched 14 Cup Series wins with the manufacturer, half of his career total. "It's neat to see the way the program has been polished. There's so much more depth, now, at Ford Performance."
Busch is coming off a year in which he qualified for the playoffs as the No. 12 seed and climbed to seventh in the final standings. The manufacturer change has him beaming on the threshold of his 18th Cup season.
"The best thing I've seen so far is the engineering staff at Stewart-Haas Racing," Busch said. "It's like they've opened a whole new book of things to look at and advance our program farther from where we were with General Motors."
Outside the shop, Busch's off-season was pretty special, too. He and wife Ashley were married and the reception afterwards was noteworthy.
"It was epic," Busch recalled. "We had a curtain in front of the stage area and when it dropped at first, everyone was like, "Wow, that's an awesome tribute band. They look great."
It didn't take long for guests to realize that it was actually Steven Tyler, not just someone who sounded like Steven Tyler.
"About halfway through the first song, people just rushed the stage and it turned into a full-on rock concert," Busch said. "It all came together through my connections with Monster Energy."
Indeed, just as there are elements of familiarity with his 2017 manufacturer, Busch feels right at home with new series sponsor Monster Energy - which has been a prominent partner on his No. 41 SHR entry in recent seasons.
"They're always looking for the next fun thing and that's what they believe NASCAR brings," Busch said, "energy, excitement, fun ... the entertainment side of it. I can't wait to see what we can pull together for NASCAR and how we can continue to build both brands."
Which brings us back to booking his wedding entertainment.
"Tailgating one night after a race in Talladega, you meet this person ... you meet that person ... you make a phone call Monday morning," Busch says. "Next thing you know, Steven Tyler says, "Yeah, I like NASCAR. I like the Busch brothers. I'll come out and do it.' "
But that was then and this is now. With the countdown to the new season shortened to a mere three weeks, Busch is eager to strap in and get back to business.
"We've added some personnel and hired key guys to make the cars safer, faster and stronger," he said. "We've done a great job with this transition and the way Doug Yates has the engines set up. There might be a couple bugs here and there, but I'm not worried about it because we've got good, quality people in place."
Daytona International Speedway will open for NASCAR teams on Friday, Feb. 17, with the season-opening Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of "The Great American Race" beginning at 1 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.