Kurt Busch bounces back with Bristol top five in 600th Cup start

John K Harrelson/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

BRISTOL, Tenn. — It’s been a tough season for Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, but the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion bounced back with a strong run at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch, 39, rose steadily throughout the evening and surged in the race’s final stint to tally a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The result was just his third top five of 2017, following top similar runs at Daytona and Pocono Raceway.

The run didn’t come easy for Busch. The Nevadan sustained damage early and struggled with the same “issue” as most of his fellow competitors – not driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing or Furniture Row Racing as the two teams dominated. But a late decision to pit for tires gave Busch fresh rubber, and allowed him to make the moves that led to his best finish in two months.

“We’ve been struggling with the VHT on the bottom, so I just knew we needed to wait and wait and wait, and I was hopeful at lap 250 that it would come to us,” Busch said. “I pushed it too hard then and got some right-front tire damage on the fender.

“We had to work through that, but I think at the end we got in position because Tony Gibson made a good call and put us on fresher tires than the competition and it was the old fun Bristol for me.”

The run stemmed the what had previously been a difficult stretch for Busch and the No. 41 team.

The Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) star tallied the biggest win of his 18-year Cup Series career at the beginning of the season, shedding his winless restrictor-plate streak with a victory in ‘The Great American Race’. However, the year that’s followed has been one of inconsistency and uncertainty both on the track and off of it.

While the season-opening win guaranteed Busch into the playoffs, the Nevadan struggled heavily through the spring and summer months. Coming into Bristol, Busch had more finishes outside of the top 10 (13) than in it (11).

Outside of the cockpit, Busch’s future has come into question. The former champion is currently unconfirmed for 2018 with SHR, though both Ford and team co-owner Gene Haas have expressed desire and optimism to keep Busch in one of the team’s Blue Ovals moving forward.

Busch’s good run also came at a significant point of his career – his 600th-career start.

Despite thats staggering number of starts – and his uncertain future – Busch feels capable of continuing to battle with the rising youth movement in races to come.

“It means that I did okay,” Busch said of reaching 600 starts. “I’m not an old bull. I’m ready to fight these young guys and put up a good battle. If we run like this in the playoffs we’ll be good.”

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