Once one of the fieriest drivers in the field, Kurt Busch’s outward-facing personality has mellowed. He is not getting into as many conflicts with the media as he did in his prime. And he seems comfortable with the attention directed toward him and no longer bristles at the slightest slight.
There is no reason to believe the desire to win has waned, however.
In the last two weeks he has come to tracks that have been kind in recent seasons and backed that up with solid finishes of a third at Auto Club and sixth at Phoenix. Until the checkers waved, one hardly knew he was there. At Auto Club, he had the sixth-best Average Running Position; last week he surged at the end after scoring the 15th-best position. In most games, it doesn’t matter how a driver gets into the top 10 so long as they end there.
Busch got off to a strong start in 2019 with four consecutive top-10s after leaving Daytona. From Week 2 through Week 12 his worst finish was a 13th. In the first 18 races of the season, he scored 10 top-10s (55.6%). Only four of these were top-fives, but one of those came at Atlanta.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has been kind to Busch for quite some time. He enters the weekend with a four-race, top-10s streak that includes a third last year and a fourth in 2016. He won the spring races in 2009 and 2010 when this track hosted two events and since 2010 he has not finished worse than 13th. In those 10 races, he has an average finish of 6.3.
Busch left Atlanta last year and kept his momentum on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. He finished fifth the following week at Vegas, ninth at Texas, and seventh at Kansas. He won’t have that same strong start on this track type in 2020 because he’s already fallen outside of the top 20 at Vegas – but that race was atypical with multiple incidents in the closing laps that shuffled the field.
Of course, Busch can be uneven. In the last 18 races (a rolling half season), he’s earned only two top-fives and eight top-10s. Nine of the remaining 10 races were outside the top 15. Moreover, at the end of last year he had difficulty in stringing three top-10s together, but in the one instance that he accomplished that feat, two of the strong runs came on 1.5-milers.
Starting Busch requires a little faith because he doesn’t often tip his hand in practice. If you have some room to gamble this week or if you are playing multiple lineups, he deserves a lot of attention, however.
Career Average Finish: 14.9 in 28 starts (ranked 10th)
2019 Atlanta: 3
2018 Atlanta: 8
2020 Las Vegas: 25
2019 Homestead: 21