The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion is about to hit a major career milestone. Kurt Busch, the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro, will make his 750th start at NASCAR’s top level when he returns to his hometown of Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept. 26 (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).
Busch is currently in the midst of his 22nd year in Cup — 21st as a full-time driver. He started out his career with Roush, driving the No. 97 Ford and securing three top-five finishes in his rookie season. However, Busch did not reach Victory Lane until 2002, his second year in Cup. He locked up the first win of his career at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 24, 2002, and then added victories at Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch ended the year third in points behind champion Tony Stewart and runner-up Mark Martin.
Fast-forward to the 2021 season, and Busch has continued to contend for wins. He has 33 total Cup Series victories, a list that includes Crown Jewels in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600 and the 2017 Daytona 500. Busch also won the non-points-paying All-Star Race during the 2010 season.
“It is hard to imagine, Twenty plus years in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Busch said in a press release. “To have been able to compete at this level with some of the best teams in the sport and against the level of competition is such a privilege. It is like aging, the years seem to go faster, it seems like 700 starts was just a few weeks ago! I appreciate the friendships and partnerships over the years. I feel like I have some race wins still out in front of me and I am looking forward to whatever the next milestone will be that I have a privilege to accomplish.”
While he is no longer in the playoff picture due to a crash at Richmond and a battle with his stock car at Bristol, Busch will continue to push for more wins. He won the 2020 fall race at Las Vegas, marking the first time that he reached Victory Lane at his hometown track. Now he will strive to do so once more while celebrating his 750th Cup Series start.
Busch Had a Unique Rise to the Cup Series
The 2004 Cup Series champion did not follow the “standard” path to the top level of NASCAR. He didn’t work his way up through, ARCA, the Camping World Truck Series, and the Xfinity Series before landing a full-time ride. Instead, he took a different route.
As Busch explained during a Sept. 6 episode of “Unleased With Dingo and The Danny,” he began racing in Las Vegas with his father. He didn’t set out to become a NASCAR star. Racing was just a hobby. However, the situation changed when he “was flunking out” of the University of Arizona. He began racing around the Tuscon area before receiving an offer from the owner of Star Nursery, a chain of garden centers in the Southwest. The man wanted Busch to race his Late Model stock car back in Las Vegas.
The eventual Cup Series champion won his first race with the Star Nursery car and immediately realized that he wanted to become a full-time driver. Though he did not simply land a deal immediately. Busch actually began working a variety of random jobs to accumulate money and pursue his dream. He spent time at a grocery store and as a plumber. He also volunteered as a mechanic for another race team.
Following a considerable amount of time working a variety of jobs and meeting people in the racing world, Busch landed his first pro deal. He signed with Roush Racing to drive in the Camping World Truck Series. He made his first start at the age of 21 and finished second at Daytona International Speedway. Busch locked up four wins overall during his first season, won Rookie of the Year, and ended second overall behind teammate Greg Biffle. Roush saw his abilities behind the wheel and moved him to the Cup Series after only one season in the Truck Series.
Busch Can Move Up the All-Time Starts List in 2022
The driver of the No. 1 took sole possession of the 12th spot on the all-time Cup Series starts list during the Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He made his 749th start and passed Sterling Martin (748 starts). Now he is within reach of some other big names.
Ken Schrader currently holds the 11th spot on the all-time starts list with 763. He began racing in 1984 and continued making starts through the 2013 season, ending his career with four Cup wins and 64 top-five finishes. Michael Waltrip sits 10th overall with 784 starts in his Cup Series career.
Busch will not catch either Schrader or Waltrip during the 2021 season. He will only hit 756 starts by the championship race on Nov. 7. However, he can track down Schrader during the 2022 season when he joins 23XI Racing and controls the No. 45 Toyota Camry.
If Busch makes every start in the 2022 season, he will tie Schrader’s mark during the April 3 race at Richmond. He will then take sole possession of the 11th spot the following week at Martinsville Speedway. Busch will have the opportunity to tie Waltrip’s 784 starts during the playoff race at Kansas Speedway on Sept. 11. He will pass the driver-turned-Fox Sports analyst during the Bristol night race on Sept. 17.
Busch will most likely end the 2022 season with 792 starts in his championship-winning career. He will hold the 10th spot on the all-time starts list, just behind soon-to-be Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Gordon (805 starts) and Darrell Waltrip (809 starts). Busch has yet to reveal if he will be back in the Cup Series for the 2023 season, but he will only pad his Hall of Fame resume by passing both Gordon and Darrell.