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(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

2016 NASCAR Rewind: Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch came into the 2016 season with some momentum and the potential to put himself squarely into the championship conversation.  In 2015, he won two races, three poles and tied a career-best with 21 top 10 finishes.

2016 was actually a slight improvement as far as the points go.  Busch moved up to a seventh-place finish in the standings after finishing eighth in 2015.  He also equaled his career-high for top 10 finishes (for the fourth time) with 21 and increased his number of lead lap finishes from 25 to 31.  However, he had one less win, one less pole and a slightly worse average finish for the season.  In addition, he was very quiet at the end of the season.  He did well enough to get into the Round of 8, but couldn’t produce enough to be in the hunt when it mattered.

Despite the fact that he more or less petered out in the Chase, Busch most definitely started the season great.  A tenth-place finish in the Daytona 500 was followed by back-to-back poles at Atlanta and Las Vegas.  Four consecutive top 10 finishes to start the season (including a fourth at Atlanta) saw the No. 41 team fourth in points during the West Coast Swing.

2016 was a season of two halves for Kurt Busch. The first half was excellent, capped off byt the win at Pocono.  The second half, not so much. (Credit: John Harrelson / NKP)

After a hiccup at Auto Club Speedway and a run at Martinsville that wasn’t quite up to expectations, Busch ran off a streak of ten consecutive top 10 finishes, including his one victory at Pocono in June.  By mid-season, Busch was second in points to teammate Kevin Harvick and sitting pretty.

It was more or less downhill from there.  Following a disappointing 23rd-place finish at Daytona in July, Busch had a stretch where the team struggled at times.  Yes, they were locked into the Chase, so they very well may have been trying new things, but it didn’t help their performance.  After Sonoma in June, Busch had four top 5 finishes for the rest of the season.

Crashes at Bristol and Darlington, along with a series of finishes outside of the top 10 dropped Busch to fifth in points after Richmond.  Since he’d won only one race, the points reset dropped Busch to ninth.

In the Chase, Busch had two top 5 and four top 10 finishes.  However, he was really quiet for much of the ten race stretch.  He led a grand total of one lap and was completely anonymous for much of the time.

Despite the anonymous nature of Busch’s Chase, he kept himself out of trouble and qualified for the Round of 8.  Unfortunately, it didn’t go well.  Quite simply, the team missed the setup at Martinsville.  With very few chances to fix the car (the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 only had five cautions, and one of those was a 29-lap yellow due to scoring issues), Busch ended up three laps down in 22nd, instantaneously putting him in trouble.

Finishing 20th the next week at Texas put Busch in a near must-win situation at Phoenix.  While Busch did finish fifth in the desert, it was not enough for him to advance to the Championship round.

Outside of NASCAR, Busch is a very well-known fan of the Chicago Cubs.  He was beyond Cloud 9 when the Cubs ended a 108-year drought and won the World Series back in October.  Busch was in attendance for at least two of the games.  For Game 2 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, he brought his mother along for the trip.

He also went to Game 5 with teammate Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and some friends.

In addition, Busch took a ten-day trip to Europe and Asia during the off-weekend in June.  After visiting Lithuania, the former champion traveled to Azerbaijan for the first Grand Prix of Europe in Baku as a guest of the Haas F1 Team.

After the race ran, Busch then flew to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. While there, he took some hot laps in an open-wheeled racer at the Yas Marina Circuit.

All in all, this was an epic trip that Ben Schlappig, proprietor of the One Mile at a Time blog would be proud of.

In his personal life, Busch was engaged last year to Ashley Van Metre.  Busch and Van Metre will be married in a shade over two weeks.  According to FOXSports.com’s Tom Jensen, it will be a small wedding on an unnamed island in the Caribbean, with a much larger reception in Florida afterwards.

For 2017, there will be some changes for Busch.  He will remain in the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing, but the team will change manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford. By extension, the team will switch from Hendrick Motorsports engines to Roush-Yates engines.  Monster Energy becoming the entitlement sponsor of the series will not affect their sponsorship of the No. 41.  HAAS Automation will continue in their existing sponsorship role, while Mobil 1 will be on the car for an indeterminate number of races.

Overall, after a couple of tough years, 2016 was the kind of year that Busch really needed.  A season in which he could simply focus on his racecraft and not have to deal with crazy stuff off the track.  We didn’t have insane stories about trained assassins, domestic violence, or at-track violence.  There really wasn’t even all that much ranting from Busch, which is a big change from prior years.

At 38, Busch appears to be quite happy, something that he has lacked in the past.  He can focus on improving himself on-track and not have distractions.  The No. 41 team is bringing back everyone of note from 2016, so they should be in position to start strong, provided that the switch to Ford doesn’t cause problems.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor. Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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