Of the six NASCAR Cup Series victories Kurt Busch has earned on Bristol Motor Speedway’s challenging high banks, he will always point to his first win as the one that is most special to him. His 2002 Food City 500 victory was not only his first Bristol win, but also his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.
That ceremonious start on the iconic bullring in Northeast Tennessee led to quite a bit of success for the Las Vegas racer over his 20-plus year career.
When he took part in a wild celebration at the track’s unique elevated Victory Lane following his last BMS victory, the 2018 Night Race, Busch had just won a race that was labeled an “Instant Classic” due to its many lead changes, incredible action and surprise ending. He then famously christened the beloved oval with a new nickname, the “Holy Grail of Short Tracks.”
Busch, 45, announced his retirement from the sport last month — officially on Saturday, Aug. 28 at Daytona International Speedway. The 2004 Cup champ was named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers earlier this year.
Busch will be a special guest of Bristol Motor Speedway during the Bass Pro Shops Night Race weekend, Sept. 14-16 (USA Network/PRN Radio, 7:30 p.m. ET).
The track is celebrating Busch’s 20th anniversary of his first Night Race victory, which came in 2003. In addition to visits with guests in skybox suites, media members and Fan Zone stages while he is here, Busch will also be featured in the commemorative souvenir program in a story written by veteran NASCAR reporter Reid Spencer.
The feature does a remarkable job of highlighting the two aforementioned epic Busch performances at Bristol. The story will be available to read in its entirety in the Playbill size program, which will be available free to guests in limited printed copies at the track during the weekend and also in a digital version online, which launched on Friday, Sept. 8. To checkout the feature story, you can access the digital program by clicking this link.
Of the 2018 victory, which so many fans still talk about today with great reverence, Busch found his way to the front in the late goings and as many have seen in the past, that usually spells trouble for all challengers.
“I think if you give somebody with the last name ‘Busch’ the lead at Bristol with 25 to go, you’re going to have a hard time getting it back,” Busch told Spencer with a laugh.
Busch finally passed Clint Bowyer for the lead in that race in the late stages and couldn’t be caught until the checkered flag waved.
“It was one of those days where I felt like I was in the zone,” Busch told Spencer. “The team was doing their job to patch the car up and find the right strategy and put us back in position to win, and things unfolded perfectly in the latter part of that race.
“We knew we were a championship contender, and we got the win that night, and we almost made it into the final four that season.”
As good as the 2018 race was, as Busch notes, nothing can compare to his first time. The victory that afternoon in the 2002 Food City 500 established him as a force to be reckoned with on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.
“In 2002, beating Jimmy Spencer and winning my first-ever NASCAR race period, that one’s going to be tough to beat,” Busch said. “You always talk about your first one…”
As Busch tells Spencer in the story, all of his Bristol hardware is on display at his home. Each one proving that he was a gladiator who dared take the challenge of Bristol. And he passed with flying colors.
“The wins at Bristol—to have my first one there and then to have the one in 2018, those are the two furthest apart—16 years—at one particular race track,” Busch said. “That’s something I show everybody when they come to the house. I show them the Bristol trophies—2002 and 2018.”
The Bristol race weekend also includes the return of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Bristol’s high banks in the Food City 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Friday night, Sept. 15 (7:30 p.m., USA Network and PRN Radio). The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will get the fun started on Thursday night, Sept. 14, with the running of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics (9 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio). The ARCA Menards Series will open Thursday’s racing to make it a doubleheader night with the Bush’s Beans 200 (6 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio).
Off the track there’s tons to do during your Bristol visit with lots of activities available in the BMS Fan Zone and BMS Fan Midway. Kenny Wallace and John Roberts will host Trackside Live at the Food City Fan Zone Stage on Saturday at 4 p.m. where drivers and other newsmakers will be interviewed. Country music band Midland will perform the pre-race concert Saturday at 5:30 p.m. to get the fans revved up for the traditional driver introductions, where each driver enters to a favorite song or music. There will be post-race entertainment on Thursday and Friday, as DJ Sterl the Pearl will host the world-famous Foam Party after the Thursday night double-header, and country music singer Tim Dugger will perform after Friday night’s Food City 300.
To purchase tickets, visit the Bristol Motor Speedway website or call (866) 415-4158.