Drag racing lark fills Kurt Busch's rare down time

No one has to teach Kurt Busch how to win on short tracks. Six of his 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories have come on half-mile ovals.

But now the 2004 Cup series champion is ready to test his skills on a different kind of short track: a quarter-mile in a straight line.

Busch, 31, has become a drag racer. He got his NHRA Super Gas competition license last month by completing Roy Hill's Drag Racing School at zMAX Dragway near his Mooresville, N.C., home. The Las Vegas native plans to race in the Gatornationals in March in Gainesville, Fla., on a rare weekend when he's not driving his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge in the Cup series.

Busch will compete in a Sportsman category in which cars can reach 165 mph in a quarter-mile. His car is a race-prepared 1970 Dodge Challenger with a turbocharged, fuel-injected 426 Dodge Hemi engine. And it will be legal to drive on North Carolina streets.

"We've gotten behind on finishing the Challenger, but we plan to be at the Gatornationals," he said. "It's been fun learning what the drag racing world is about."

Busch decided to try drag racing after being encouraged by Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson and Don Prudhomme, who like Busch was sponsored by Miller Brewing.

While Busch has been getting a feel for straight-line horsepower, his wife, Eva, has been horsing, too. She has been training for dressage competition with 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Michael Poulin.

"It might be fun after Eva learns more about dressage for her to teach me a little," Busch said Saturday before Cup qualifying at Fontana, Calif. "My dad always recommended that four tires are better than two on vehicles. I don't know about the four-hoof thing."

Busch's brief exposure to dead-start drag racing isn't likely to mean anything when the green flag flies Sunday for the Shelby American Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And it's safe to say he won't be doing any pedal-to-the floor drag racing down NASCAR pit roads.

Busch likes his chances of challenging for another Cup championship under new crew chief Steve Addington, who headed younger brother Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team the past two years when they won 12 times.

Kurt won twice last year and finished fourth in points. Only three Hendrick Racing Chevrolets finished higher.

"All the good things seem to be lining up for this weekend," Busch said. "It's a true confidence builder to head back into Vegas knowing that you have a guy calling the shots (Addington) for us who won the thing there last year," Busch said.

In 2009, Kyle Busch won the pole -- Kurt started second -- and the race.

Addington lost a gamble to pit late in the Daytona 500 when Kurt Busch was running fourth with a few laps left and finished 23rd. On Sunday, they rebounded to place sixth at Fontana.

In nine career LVMS starts, Busch has never started outside the top 10, with a best finish of third in 2005 while driving a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.