Kurt Busch won two races in 2017.
He won the Daytona 500.
And he won a match race as part of Discovery’s “Fast N’ Loud” in which he and the members of the Gas Monkey Garage restored (and souped up) an old Ford Pantera for him to race Joey Logano, driving a Ford Gen 3 Type 65 Coupe-R, around the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
One win established Busch as a driver who has won the two biggest NASCAR trophies — a championship (in 2004) and the Daytona 500.
The other win possibly established, or at least built a foundation, for Busch looking at life and opportunities outside of a race car.
Busch, 39, signed a one-year deal in December to stay at Stewart-Hass Racing, and he has no desire to leave the NASCAR Cup garage. But as he heads to Daytona International Speedway this week for practice and qualifying to begin defense of his Daytona 500 win, Busch has spent the past year in some ways looking toward the future.
It was pretty easy for Busch to do the Discovery episode. As a car guy, he couldn’t get enough of trying to restore the Pantera. He exceeded his budget a few times, making sure the suspension and sequential gearbox could give him the performance he wanted.
Busch spent about four hours with the car on the surface plate, making sure the Kurt Busch Inc.-Gas Monkey Garage project was to his liking.
“I loved doing it with Gas Monkey Garage because I respect the work they do but also wanted to show them a little about the racing side,” Busch said. “We actually took that car to the wind tunnel. I had all these big ideas for Discovery Channel about teaching people about the wind tunnel and what we learn.
“But it turned more into a thrash build, get the car to the track and kick Joey Logano’s rear end.”
For Richard Rawlings of the Gas Monkey Garage, it was a different type of restoration because Busch had his vision.
“It’s a lot easier because they knew exactly what they wanted. … It is a really bad-ass car,” Rawlings said at the filming of the match race last August for the episodes that aired in late November.
In December, Busch announced he signed with Livewire Entertainment as his management agency and hired Hollywood agency ICM Partners to find him more television work.
“Working with Kurt over the last few months, I’ve seen the incredible talent he has on the race track, and in so many other areas, that I look forward to sharing with his fans as we continue to grow his brand,” Livewire Entertainment co-manager Whitney Fatone said in December.
Busch feels he can build on what he did last summer with Discovery, as fans have commented to him about the episodes of the car build and the match race, even stopping him in the airport to ask about the Pantera.
“To me, I am just trying to learn more about the whole product that happens with racing, and that is to work with [TV networks],” Busch said. “That is where Lou Oppenheim at ICM has helped me learn more about the TV side and what could be on the horizon.
“I don’t know. I am just trying to move forward and learn all I can.”
Busch rolls into Daytona this week with the same organization and car number as he did a year ago but with crew chief Billy Scott and primarily the crew that worked with Danica Patrick in 2017. Most of Busch’s crew have moved to Busch’s new teammate, Aric Almirola.
They got their first real test together last week at Las Vegas, in Busch’s hometown.
Back with the local media, Busch was asked about having his life in a good place after a career that at times has been a turbulent ride, both professionally and personally.
“For me, there’s mistakes made or there’s the lessons learned, and there’s no real need to get excited about some of the little nuances that were overhyped and well-document and overexposed,” Busch said.
“Now it’s just [I’m] settled into that veteran role. We’ve got a lot of new kids coming in [to the sport], and there’s a lot of new stories. For me, it’s still about winning — it’s about running up front, leading laps, making the playoffs and making a run through the playoffs.”
Knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last year, Busch admits he’s feeling the pressure to repeat as the Daytona 500 champ.
“Family and friends have been asking me, ‘You won Daytona, do you feel less pressure?’ I feel more. I want to go back there and repeat, and it hasn’t been done since the early ’90s with Sterling Marlin [in 1994-95]. That gives us that extra motivation to go there and to win.”
He doesn’t feel like this will be his final Daytona 500. He said he has a lot more racing left in him.
“I wouldn’t assume that [it’s my last contract],” Busch said. “There are many balls in the air, but you have to be smart this day in age, and you can’t just have one plan, because things change quickly. I like to have options, and that is an option for me.
“It is that drive and desire to win races still for me. I want to win more. Last year was great with Daytona, but we want to win more.”