For the second consecutive year, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finds himself out of contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. So, for the second consecutive year, he’ll head to Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to play the role of spoiler in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale by winning the race.
The 2004 Sprint Cup champion was eliminated from contention Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway after finishing fifth in the Round of 8 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. Busch entered the race essentially needing to win after finishes of 22nd at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and 20th at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth saw him enter Phoenix with a 34-point deficit.
So, while he may enter the final race of the 2016 season no longer eligible to win the championship, there’s still one opportunity for Busch to earn his second victory of the year. Enter this weekend’s event in Miami.
Since making his first Sprint Cup start at the 1.5-mile oval in 2000, Busch has one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10s there. While the South Florida track hasn’t historically been one of Busch’s strongest suits, it will always have a special place for him, as it was there that he won the Sprint Cup championship in 2004.
Busch went into that weekend with an 18-point lead in the standings. He started on the pole and, needing only to finish ahead of four drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin – Busch was able to run with the leaders for the first 90 laps until, as he was coming to pit road, the right-front wheel broke off his racecar. He miraculously missed hitting the outside pit wall by less than a foot, then was able to make his way to his pit stall and remain on the lead lap despite the setback.
From there, Busch moved forward through the caution-filled race and, while his two closest championship rivals Johnson and Gordon took second and third place, respectively, Busch’s fifth-place finish – his 21st top-10 of the year – was enough to win the first Chase-format championship.
Two years prior to scoring the championship at Homestead, Busch celebrated his lone victory there while his current teammate and car co-owner Tony Stewart celebrated winning the first of his three Cup Series championships on the frontstretch. Busch led the first 10 laps, passed Ryan Newman on lap 256, and held onto the lead in the 267-lap season finale, bringing home his fourth victory of the 2002 season.
Busch would like nothing more than to put one more mark in the win column before the 2016 season comes to a close. So, for the second consecutive year, Busch will attempt to play the role of spoiler this weekend in Miami, trying to steal the spotlight with a victory in the final race of the 2016 season.