Season Review: Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch recorded six top five and 15 top 10s, including his Daytona 500 win, during the 2017 season. (Photo: Getty Images)


2017 Race-by-Race Results | 2017 Detailed Statistics

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series started off with a bang for Kurt Busch and ended with questions surrounding the 2004 champion’s future with Stewart-Haas Racing.

After getting married in the off-season, Busch started 2017 with confidence - hoping he could once again reclaim NASCAR’s biggest prize: the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. But he also joked that winning the sport’s biggest race would, jokingly, cause him to consider walking away from the sport.

"The Daytona 500, if I won it this year, I might almost pull a Carl Edwards and just walk way," Busch said, referencing his former competitor who announced his retirement from NASCAR just weeks before the 2017 season started.

Busch pulled off the win in Daytona in February, taking home the biggest race victory of his career. By winning the first race of the year, he was also the first driver to lock himself into the NASCAR Playoffs.

Kurt Busch"To win the Daytona 500 is hard to put into words," Busch said. "It’s beyond belief. You watch this race as a kid, and you live the experiences with each driver who wins and loses this race. And now, after 16 years of this race going 16 different ways for us, it erases all those memories."

That confidence Busch brought into the season continued in the days following his Daytona 500 triumph. He finished seventh at Atlanta the following week and seemed like an early threat to be a championship contender. But after arriving in his hometown of Las Vegas to start the western swing the following week, Busch’s season began to go off the rails.

Four straight finishes of 24th or worse, including three races where battery issues plagued the No. 41 team, brought Busch back down to reality and spiraled him from second in points down to 19th by the beginning of April.

After stopping his early-season skid with a 10th-place finish at Texas, Busch looked like he would get back on the right track - finishing in the top 10 six times over the next 10 races as the series headed back to Daytona in July.

"We didn’t make any mistakes. We didn’t have to battle too hard on the handling," Busch said after the Texas race. "I would say we did well. I know we can do better. I am happy about a top 10."

Busch’s consistent season brought him back to Daytona for the mid-summer Coke Zero 400 with good memories of his February triumph and growing momentum as the team finally got its hands around the off-season switch from Chevrolet to Ford.

“Once we settled in and learned the balance of our Ford and how things were changing here and there, I think we’ve done great,” Busch said. “You can’t be too complacent. You have to find new things and put more tools in your toolbox to be able to have that advantage at the end of the race.” 

A crash at Daytona and an engine failure the following week at Kentucky quickly took away all the momentum Busch seemed to be building in the early summer races. But after rebounding in the late summer by mounting three-straight top-five finishes starting with the August night race at Bristol, Busch appeared to have his swagger back as the playoffs drew closer. 

But overshadowing Busch’s up and down season were multiple reports at the end of July saying Busch wouldn’t be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 and that his future in the sport was in question. 

Stewart-Haas declined to comment on the status of Busch’s contract but issued a tweet saying they expected him to return in 2018. Busch confirmed at Watkins Glen in August that the team hadn’t picked up the option to renew his current contract and that while a return to the team wasn’t out of the question, his options for the future were plenty.

“I feel like there’s more options out there,” Busch said. “The phone didn’t stop ringing all week. I’m looking for the best possible option to race a competitive car that’s got a chance to win races, win poles and compete for a championship. There’s different cars that are options for me, and Stewart-Haas is one of them."

With momentum on his side and questions about his future fresh in his head, Busch entered the NASCAR Playoffs but struggled to find consistency and speed. Busch finished 19th in the opening race at Chicagoland, following it up with a 37th-place at New Hampshire and then ultimately being knocked out of the playoffs with a 20th-place effort at Dover. 

“Yeah disappointed with the way that I drove through these playoff runs,” Busch said after his run at Dover. “I was driving at 101 percent trying to get every ounce of speed out of it. It just never had a flow for three races. The wreck last week really put us in a hole. We needed a perfect day today and playoff stage points. We gave it everything we had.” 

Kurt BuschWhile Busch’s hopes at a championship were over, he was still looking to impress potential future employers by finishing the season strong. Busch would go on to score a runner-up finish at Kansas and a ninth-place at Texas but ultimately ended the season 14th in points. 

Now more than two weeks after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch has yet to announce his 2018 plans but knows his best chance to be competitive next year is to stay at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

“My best chance to win races, to win championships is to be at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Busch said. “I’ve talked with other owners and the offers were about the same from other teams. But the offers weren’t the same as far as level of car. We’ll see how it all plays out. I’m not worried about it.”

Busch says he has no deadline to sign a contract for next season and beyond but rather finding the right fit for him in the silly season puzzle. Once Busch finds that ride, his goals for 2018, other than of course winning a championship, are clear.

“I want to really focus hard on the crown jewel events such as Indianapolis. We came very close at Darlington this year to win the Southern 500. That’s high on my list,” Busch said.

Click to View Season Reviews for Each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Driver

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