Having followed the footsteps of his father Tom, Kurt Busch has now established himself among the top stock car drivers in NASCAR-sanctioned events.
At 37-years-old, the American has taken to the track in more than 500 NASCAR races with his biggest highlight coming 12 years ago, when he got his hands on the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2004.
Sport360 caught up with the Stewart-Haas Racing driver during a visit to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit to discuss the special moments in his career, how Formula One can attract more fans in the US and why he might return to the capital later this year.
NASCAR is widely popular in the United States. We’ve seen NBA and NFL holding exhibition and regular season games overseas. Would you like a similar move for NASCAR?
Yes, I would like to see them do that. I think it all comes down to contracts and governments and who is going to do what for the series and how it will benefit the people.
In the United States, NASCAR is very popular and it’s a great chance for us drivers and the sport in general to go to other places especially like Canada. We race regularly around the US but I think Europe would be wonderful. I have heard there are some great oval motorsport tracks in England and Germany and I think that would be exciting.
Why do you think NASCAR is a big hit in the US?
The whole concept is side-by-side racing; there’s contact as well as drafting. One major factor is the size of the tracks can be seen from one side of the grandstand. With that holding up to 80,000 people, it’s very spectator-friendly and I think that’s what makes it great.
The United States also stages a Formula One race. What do you feel Bernie Ecclestone can learn from NASCAR in attracting more fans to F1 in the US?
They can use a lot of education from NASCAR. F1 is a global sport but the US are very supportive of their own brand. It’s quite hard to get into this market as we’ve seen with football.
The most important thing is they need to balance a lot of things like the television rights and other contracts. Most importantly, they need to look after the people. That’s the number one goal to ensure they are happy and that they can enjoy the experience.
Juan Pablo Montoya is just one F1 driver who has made the transition to NASCAR. Can you see more making the move?
For sure. We would welcome them with open arms to come and try their skills in our cars. We’ve had different guys over the years who’ve tried their luck like Jacques Villeneuve.
But they will have to get used to the big heavy cars as it feels like you’re wrestling with a grizzly bear. Formula One racing is far more consistent and it’s all about speed and attacking the cars in front of you. Our cars have much more finesse.
You’ve had many high moments in your career. What would you say has been your highlight so far?
Definitely the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is very important for me. It was always a life goal of mine to win that before I even began my career so it’s quite special.
Now I want to better that achievement by winning it again for the second time and that is now my new goal.
But as with every season, competition gets tough and that’s because of the format as well as the strength of drivers.
I also really enjoyed racing in Indianapolis 500 in 2014. That was an incredible event and to finish sixth on my debut was amazing because I was certainly surprised by how well I did. Overall, I love trying out different tracks and enhancing my track skills as a NASCAR driver.
Is the Indy something you want to do again?
Yes very much so. It’s the most popular race in the US and there were 250,000 people in attendance. That speaks volumes of how big it is.
What goals do you want to achieve before you retire?
Honestly, I want more success in NASCAR and to win another championship and be able to compete globally in different circuits and experience new countries.
You’ve raced at many circuits around the world. How was the Yas Formula 3000 experience of racing at Yas Marina Circuit?
It was fantastic and it’s very technical. The track is designed for Formula One racing where there’s a lot of power and down-force in the cars.
In a lot of cars that I drive, it’s completely the opposite. But the overall track has beautiful scenery and it was everything that I expected it to be.
How will this help you for the remainder of the season?
It was a fun day for me and it was good for me to research in case I do come back for the 12 Hours race in Abu Dhabi. That is one race which I’m very much interested in doing. It takes place during our off-season and it tends to be a very fun and exotic race.
Apart from racing, what are your other interests and hobbies?
I grew up playing a lot of baseball and that is my favourite to watch and play. I also watch football and basketball and hockey is becoming bigger in the United States. I enjoy going to football matches and my favourite team is Chelsea because they are great.
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