2021 season in review: Kurt Busch

2021 season in review: Kurt Busch

Editor‘s Note: This continues the series of season reviews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs drivers.

Driver: Kurt Busch
Car:
No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Crew chief: Matt McCall
Final 2021 ranking: 11th
Key stats: 1 win, 6 top fives, 14 top 10s, 208 laps led

How 2021 ended:
The elder Busch brother struggled with consistency in the first 20 races of the season. But after his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway (race No. 21), his performance improved, ending the 26-race regular season 10th in the standings and poised for another run in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, an early crash at Richmond Raceway in the second playoff race left Busch with a 37th-place finish, dropping him to 12th in the standings, and he couldn‘t bounce back far enough in the next race (19th at Bristol Motor Speedway) to advance to the second round. Yet even after being eliminated, the 2004 Cup champ still ended the overall season — and his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing — strong with two top-five and two other top-10 finishes in the final seven races.

Best race:
Busch dominated the Quaker State 400 on July 11 at Atlanta, leading 144 of the race‘s 260 laps to capture the win and give himself an automatic berth in the playoffs. But younger brother Kyle didn‘t make it easy on his sibling, leading 91 laps himself.

Kurt finally pulled away in the last 25 laps to finish 1.237 seconds ahead of Kyle, as they combined to lead 235 of the event‘s 260 laps. It marked the fourth time in their careers that the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in a Cup race (each has won twice).

“Hell yeah, we beat Kyle,” Kurt said after the race. “What a battle on an old-school race track. It‘s been one of those years where I knew we were going to have our back against the wall, just above the (playoffs) cut-off line and needed to race hard and race smart.”

RELATED: Kurt Busch reacts to beating Kyle

Additional highlights:

• The biggest off-track news for Busch came on Aug. 27 when it was announced he would join 23XI Racing for the 2022 season. Busch will drive the No. 45 Toyota and join Bubba Wallace as the organization expands to a two-car team in its second season of operation. It will also be Busch‘s 23rd season in NASCAR Cup.

• 2021 marked the first time NASCAR has run seven races on road courses in a single season and Busch earned four top-10 finishes. The upcoming March 27, 2022 race at Circuit of The Americas will be Busch‘s 50th career start on a road course. To date, he has one win, 14 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes on road courses.

Stat to know:
The win at Atlanta was particularly notable for the 43-year-old Las Vegas native, as he extended his streak of earning at least one win per season to the last eight seasons and 18 of the last 20 seasons.

He also qualified for the playoffs for the ninth straight season. But at the same time, since the advent of the playoff elimination format in 2014, Busch has never advanced past the Round of 8 and into the Championship 4 finale. His best finish in the final standings since 2014 has been seventh (twice: 2016 and 2018).

Quotable:
“Racing to win is what I live for. Helping to continue developing a new team, alongside Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin, and Toyota is exactly what I want to be part of. Winning is important to 23XI, it‘s important to Monster Energy, and it‘s important to me. That is our goal.” — Busch on joining 23XI Racing in 2022

RELATED: See Busch’s 33 premier series wins

Looking ahead:
Busch shut down rumors that he might retire after 2021 when he announced his plans for next season. There is definitely room for improvement for his new organization as, outside of its first-ever Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 4, Busch‘s new teammate, Wallace, finished outside the top 20 in 23XI‘s first season of operation.

Busch brings veteran experience and longtime sponsor Monster Energy to 23XI Racing, being a past Cup champ (2004) who has 33 wins, 156 top-five and 331 top-10 finishes in 756 starts in NASCAR‘s premier series. Perhaps the most realistic goal is for Busch to make the playoffs, which would make it 10 seasons in a row for him to achieve that mark. Anything after that would be a bonus.