Kurt Busch sits down, places his Monster Energy drink on top of the conference table and immediately begins to discuss the sentimental value of ISM Raceway.
“This is where I watched my first NASCAR race as a kid and the desert Southwest feels like home, as Vegas, being my hometown, is just up the road,” Busch says.
Busch is back in the West Valley to race his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the Bluegreen Vacations 500 on Sunday, November 10. This is his 19th season racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) and his 33rd time visiting the ISM track.
“I really enjoy it to this day,” Busch says. “Nineteen years has gone by quick. I remember racing down in Tucson, in the late ’90s trying to make it big and here we are.”
To increase the number of fans at the race, Busch bought 100 tickets to each race this season for veterans and is selling them through vettix.org. He also purchased tickets to this weekend’s race.
“It has been an amazing program,” Busch says. “That creates the opportunity for 100 active or nonactive military veterans or current service members to come to the track at every race.”
He says the feedback has been incredible, and the demand for tickets were way beyond his expectations. Daytona garnered 320 requests through the vettix.org program.
“We have our season-ending numbers now,” Busch says. “More than 50,000 total requests came into the vettix.org for NASCAR tickets this year. We had over 3,000, this was the second-highest race in March, for the spring race here.”
Busch started buying tickets for veterans at the beginning of the season with the Daytona 500. He hopes to continue the program into next year.
“That was my first race,” Busch says. “We are thinking of ideas of how to kick it into gear and another gear for next year, possibility of ramping it to 200.”
This is also his debut season with Chip Ganassi Racing and working with his new crew chief Matt McCall. He thinks Ganassi’s strategy this year was to leave everybody in the same position and only switch to another driver.
“The group is a solid group,” Busch says. “I think it caught everybody by surprise because it showed the faith that Chip has in every crew member and the position they are in.
“They are a group that was ready to win and, of course, we did. Now it is a matter of getting to that next championship level and that is what we have to work on. We have to finish the season strong, and next year come out of the gates stronger next year to be a championship contender.”
This weekend’s race at ISM Raceway prepares him for next year’s championship race. It’ll be held in Avondale for the first time.
“We need to have that extra attention to detail, execution and pretend mentally that this is our shot at it,” Busch says about this weekend’s race. “That way we are better prepared for next year.”
The track is somewhat different this year, however. Traction compound is going to be sprayed down for the outside groove to help create more side-by-side racing.
“It is slick to start, that’s the key thing,” says Busch, whose wife, Ashley, is a U.S. polo player and star of CMT’s “Racing Wives.” “It is hard to explain everything but basically you just can’t bake the cake, you got to pour all the ingredients together and then you get the final product. So, it’s got to be clean, it has to get heated up with the other tires and has to stay clean.
“If you put that quickie dry down for an oil leak or a wreck, that cakes it up again and then it’s slick for a while. It has all different types of elements changing. Like dirt track racing, where it sits wet for some portion and then it starts to dry up. It’s kind of like that.”
For more information for this weekend’s race, visit ismraceway.com.