Through the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series’ regular season, Kurt Busch defined consistency, tallying the seventh-best average finishing position (13.4) of the 16 playoff drivers.
But Busch and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team have yet to visit victory lane this season, scoring just four top-five finishes — three of which came in the opening eight races of the season — and 14 top-10 finishes.
On paper, Busch limped into the postseason. During the seven races that made up the month of August, the No. 1 team had a best finish of 10th and an average finish just shy of 20th, including two DNFs at Dover International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, dropping them to 10th in the point standings.
When the 2020 playoffs begin on Sunday (Sept. 6) at Darlington Raceway, a track where Busch finished a season-best-tying third in May, the Las Vegas native is hoping to keep the consistency from the regular season up.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Busch said on day one of playoff media days. “We’re in that underdog type position, but also the tracks that are coming up: Darlington, Richmond [Raceway], Bristol [Motor Speedway], those are all my favorites and the team has run really well at those tracks.
“We just have to go execute as a team, not get too far ahead of ourselves and just execute. That’s really what we’ve got to do in these first few races to get to the next round.”
Compared to 2020, Busch was more consistent last year, his first at CGR, winning at Kentucky Speedway and leading 212 laps. But the driver says he’s taking this year’s playoffs one race at a time, having only led more than one lap in two races this season.
“We put ourselves in this position to be playoff eligible and to have a shot at the championship, so we know this is an opportunity to do something great,” Busch said. “Just one week at a time. I love Darlington, it’s one of my favorite racetracks, with Richmond and Bristol — two short tracks — in this first round, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but if we execute as a team, we’ve got a great shot at all of this.”
Entering the opening round, Busch sits 15th in points, with just one playoff point virtue of winning stage one in the second race of the doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway. Sitting just 13 points behind sixth position in the playoffs, the 2004 champion believes with one good stage, he could jump up the playoff leaderboard.
“Points are basically even right now,” he said. “It’s just a matter of staying calm, cool and being patient and finding the right points through the different stages and these first three races.”
Over the years, Busch has performed exceptionally well at the tracks that are in the opening round. Though he’s never won at Darlington, he’s got 10 top-10 efforts in 25 starts. Typically, he runs well at Richmond, with an average finish of 15.4 in 38 starts. But Bristol is hands down his best track on the schedule; winning six times at the track, and is on a current streak of four straight top 10s.
Missing the Round of 12 would be a disappointment, but Busch is due for a victory. He did think, though, one would have come by the 26th race of the season.
“I felt like with the way our season started, it was strong and consistent and then we had a shot to win the first race back after [the sport resumed its season] at Darlington,” Busch stated. “It just seemed liked these opportunities here or there just slipped through our fingers and we didn’t execute to get those wins.”
Busch and the No. 1 team were bounced after the opening round of the playoffs in 2019, so if those same chances arise during the postseason, they’ll be looking to grab them and not let go.