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Sonoma Raceway central to launching Kurt Busch’s NASCAR career

Toyota/Save Mart 350

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 26: Kurt Busch, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 26, 2011 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Getty Images for NASCAR

Kurt Busch has one NASCAR Cup Series win at Sonoma Raceway, in 2011 when he drove the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske.

But if it weren’t for a win on the road course in a different series in 1999, the native of Las Vegas might not have gotten the chance to take a crack at NASCAR’s top series, where he won the 2004 Cup title and eventually the Daytona 500.

Busch first drove at Sonoma in 1998 as a 19-year-old in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He qualified 19th and went on to finish third.

A year later, on the way to the Southwest Tour championship, Busch returned to Sonoma and won after qualifying third and leading 31 of 64 laps.

“That was my first win in a stock car at a road course,” Busch said in a team release. “I’ve always believed that Saturday race was the most important stage to stand on because there wasn’t a Truck Series race or an Xfinity Series race. Back in the day, the Southwest Tour race was the support race, and my race was live on ESPN. I’ve always thought Sonoma helped springboard me into the spotlight, and I’m very thankful for that chance.”

If there actually was a springboard, it would say “property of Jack Roush.”

The owner of Roush Fenway Racing witnessed Busch’s 1999 Sonoma win. Busch then went on to win six races and the championship. All of that resulted in Busch receiving an invitation to try out for Roush’s Camping World Truck Series team in an event nicknamed “The Gong Show.”

Busch won the event and a spot with Roush. In 2000, Busch competed in his rookie season in the Truck Series, winning four races in 24 starts and finishing second in the standings. The next year, Busch was starting full-time in Roush’s No. 97 Ford in the Cup Series.

Sixteen years later, Busch is looking for his follow-up to winning the Daytona 500, but he’s also looking for just his second road course victory of his Cup career. He’s never won at Watkins Glen International.

Busch enters this weekend’s race at Sonoma with an average finish of 8.9 at the road course and seven top fives in 16 starts. The most recent was in 2015, when came in second to his brother, Kyle Busch.

“We could’ve won this race two years ago and I finished second to my little brother Kyle in the first Busch one-two finish,” Busch said. “Last year we just burned the rear tires off of the car. We just have to get a hang of the tires that are constantly changing to get our Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford where we want it to be.”

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