Of course Kurt Busch was going to win with 23XI Racing, it was simply a matter of when.
Busch was hired – a logical choice for Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan and Toyota – for what he did Sunday at Kansas Speedway. The No.45 was fast and dominant as Busch led 116 laps and then dug deep in the final 33-lap stint going from third to the win. Busch ran reigning series champion – and the guy who has been one of the best on the mile-and-a-half tracks since last year – hard, and beat him.
“To win at a mile-and-a-half, to beat Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, to be in position for the win, I knew it was there,” Busch said. “I had to dig deep and had to find something. I just had to find something that would be a little above Larson.
“A little bit of a tricky move on Larson. I said (to myself), I have to stay close. I’ve got to stay close after we got beat off pit road and were restarting third. Just got to stay close.”
Hamlin was emotional afterwards as the winning co-owner, who continues to see his vision come to life and his operation grow. 23XI Racing has won two races in the NASCAR Cup series while just a little over a year old.
There was never any doubt Busch could elevate the 23XI Racing program because he’s done it everywhere he’s been in the 22 full seasons he’s been a full-time Cup Series driver, and at 43-years-old, Busch is still pushing himself to compete at the highest level, and that pushes those around him.
Kurt Busch made his testing debut for 23XI late last year, image courtesy of 23XI Racing
In his first test with the team late last year at the Charlotte Roval, Busch acknowledged he was putting it upon himself, a veteran, to impart knowledge on his team where he can while also mentoring Bubba Wallace, taking care of partners and winning races. There has been nothing but praise from those within the organization for what Busch has brought to the program.
“It’s a process,” Busch said. “You have to start from the ground up when you’re building a brand-new car, whether it’s the Next Gen or the No.45 at 23XI. The Toyota family brought me in, Monster Energy said, ‘Let’s go do this,’ and you have steps that you have to take.
“When I switched from Roush to Penske, we won in our (fifth) race together. When I switched over to SHR, I think it was our sixth race, won at Martinsville.
“This one took a little bit, but here we are. We’re winners. The Ganassi car, we won mid-summer when I switched to them. Each place, each sequence, I’m just happy to have a ride and happy to give my best.
“Early in my career, it was all about me, me, me. And now I’ve understood this is a team, and every element is super important. I was able to do my job [on Sunday]. My team put me out there in position, and I wasn’t going to let anybody named Kyle beat me today.”
Both 23XI Racing cars finished in the top 10 at Kansas Speedway and both had speed. Wallace had to battle back from an uncontrolled tire when he ran fifth.
It wasn’t necessarily a surprise both teams had speed because it’s been there, but both teams have also shot themselves in the foot or had something not of their doing jump up and bite them, ending what could have been a good day.
Billy Scott, crew chief of the No. 45 23XI Toyota, John K Harrelson/NKP/Motorsport Images
Driving for 23XI puts Busch in a position he’s never been before in helping build a team.
“Billy Scott was my first choice as a crew chief, and he’s the structure of this 45 car, and to have guys and girls follow me over from Ganassi to make this happen, and to have a group of rebels from different teams,” said Busch. “My car was like, man, I’ll jump out of retirement, I’ll come back and race with you.
“To me, this 45 car was a special project to leave my fingerprints on something when I’m done racing because I know I’m in the twilight of my career, and that’s what makes it even more special now that it’s a winner, and we’re going to hang up a winning banner flag at 23XI here soon.”
It all finally went right and Busch got to shine. In doing so, proving that he can win for anyone and nearly has in his career.
Busch has 34 career wins across five different teams: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi and 23XI Racing. There were only two teams Busch has spent time with where he didn’t win: James Finch and Furniture Row Racing.
Busch has won with four different manufacturers: Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota. Sunday’s win also makes it nine straight seasons he’s had at least one win and only three times (in 22 seasons) has Busch gone winless.
“It’s a lot of years; getting old,” Busch laughed. “A lot of great race teams. Really cool people. Great sponsors. For me, I just do my job behind the wheel. Early on in my career, I was thinking it was all about me, me, me making the difference and all along, it’s everybody adds to this. And at the end of the day, however many years it’s been and however many wins it’s been, it’s the same thing that I’ll always be able to go to my dad and give him a hug or (my) team owner in Vegas, the Star Nursey guy, and just say thank you for helping me make it in this NASCAR world.
“And now here we are, winning with Toyota and 23XI. This is my family.”