After winning their first race together at Kansas Speedway in May, Kurt Busch challenged his 23XI Racing team to take themselves from good to great.
Busch is not only in his first year with the organization — the No. 45 group itself is new. Aside from some expected growing pains of self-inflicted mistakes and issues outside of their control, it would appear things are going as well as they can be. Busch is locked into the playoffs and his Toyota has shown speed.
As the team continues to strive for greatness, and now with the only off-weekend behind them, Busch revealed they’re working with a new mindset.
“We had a reset with an off-week and then everybody came back, and it’s like this new energy for the second half of the year. It’s almost like we’re treating it like it’s our second year together,” Busch said. “That’s how fast we’re trying to grow and how fast we’re trying to plug in all the puzzle pieces. Everybody’s got that vibe and that energy to work extra hard, and we just have to continue to keep doing that.
“There are going to be setbacks; there are going to be those tough races, but we all have to get back to the shop and be there together.”
Busch has made the playoffs each year under the elimination-style format, but he’s yet to make the Championship 4. When Busch won the championship in 2004, it was under the inaugural edition of the playoffs with 10 drivers eligible for the championship, no eliminations, no bonus points, or any of the other procedures the series uses now.
There are nine races left in the regular season and Busch, who is 15th in the overall standings, does not have a lot of playoff points. No one driver has run away from the field in that category. Busch, like some of his peers, doesn’t believe there is a favorite, although he looks at the consistency of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney as competitors unlikely to miss the postseason.
“It’s wide-open,” Busch said. “The Fords have their weeks. Chevy’s had their weeks. Toyota — I can’t believe we didn’t win this past weekend [at Nashville] with how many laps we led and how much we were upfront. It’s just how quickly things change at the end of these races.”
Understanding that nothing is guaranteed in racing, and things can change quickly, is new to Busch. His car and his team are new, and playing a part in building something has been a big deal to the Cup Series veteran. It’s why this season will be one that sticks with him.
“Even without the win at Kansas, this has been one of my most rewarding seasons with building the team up and being a part of something brand new,” he said. “I’m going to leave my fingerprints on this when I’m done racing and…the family atmosphere here at 23XI. It’s what made this season fun and it’s energizing, and here we go — we’re just starting the second half.”