The timing couldn’t be better for Kurt Busch.
Busch will be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame on Friday at Orleans Arena while being surrounded by family and friends in the city where he grew up. The ceremony comes five days after the Durango High School graduate won his second race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, claiming the rain-shortened event Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
It’s quite different from March, when Busch normally would have been running in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But he was under suspension by NASCAR because of legal issues involving a domestic violence case with a former girlfriend.
Busch, 37, was reinstated the week after the Las Vegas stop and is enjoying a revival on the racetrack. He is 11th in the standings with earnings of $1,935,770. He has the two wins, five top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes.
“This year has been so rewarding,” said Busch, who is driving the No. 41 Chevrolet car for Stewart-Haas Racing. “I’ve been executing well with my race preparation and forecasting well what’s going to happen during the race.”
Busch said life sometimes can be tough. He didn’t like having his personal affairs scrutinized publicly, especially when not everyone knew all the facts.
“It can be hard,” he said. “But I continue to learn and grow as a person from each experience.”
Busch has enjoyed much success as a stock-car driver since turning pro in 1998, including winning the Cup series championship in 2004, so Friday’s honor was inevitable. But he said getting the call this soon surprised him.
“Usually when you’re being mentioned for a Hall of Fame, it’s at the twilight of your career,” he said. “But it’s humbling to be receiving this honor, and I’m proud to be representing Las Vegas.”
Busch will be joined by boxer Mike Tyson, former NFL quarterback Glenn Carano, golf pro Joe Kelly and rodeo coach Ric Griffith as members of the Class of 2015.
Racing wasn’t always foremost in Busch’s mind. He attended the University of Arizona with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. But going fast was in his blood, and driving cars meant more to him than filling prescriptions. So he quit school and focused full time on driving.
“I got the sense right around the time construction started on the speedway and the (Winston) Cup race,” Busch said of his career path that he would ultimately choose. “In 1997, I got a call to race a car for Craig Keough, who is the owner of Star Nursery, in the Super Late Model Division. I won, and that’s when I knew I wanted to do this for a living. It was a dream come true.”
Busch would drive for racing moguls Jack Roush and Roger Penske. In 2002, Busch won four races and had 12 top-5 finishes in 36 starts in what was his best season until winning the Cup series title in 2004.
But nobody gets to the top of their profession without help. Busch says his family, particularly his father, Tom, and friends had confidence in him and have traveled the journey with him, through the good times and the bad.
“They all helped open doors, and they’re the ones responsible for helping me with my career,” Busch said.
Busch has won 27 times in NASCAR’s elite division and ranks No. 26 on the all-time victory list. Two spots ahead of him is his younger brother Kyle, who has 29 victories.
It’s almost guaranteed that one day Kyle Busch will join his brother in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. When that happens, the Busch brothers will join Greg and Mike Maddox as the only siblings to be inducted.
“I was fortunate to have a family that was so supportive of my sports career,” Kurt Busch said. “I never forgot where I came from. Las Vegas has always been a unique city to represent, and I take a lot of pride in it.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him 0n Twitter: @stevecarprj.