Once Kurt Busch actually got back in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, he didn’t think he would miss a beat.
He was right.
Busch finished fifth in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in his first race back from a NASCAR suspension that held him out of the season’s first three races.
In essence, Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson picked up right where they left off when they were paired together for the final three races of the 2014 season.
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“I wasn’t worried. We really hit it off well last year,” said Busch, who in one race collected more points (39) than teammate Tony Stewart has in the season’s first four races (32).
“To start off this year, I mean, we have that extra emotion within us right now. Everything’s on a high of getting back to the car, racing hard, going for the win in our first weekend back together.
“Now, we’ll just settle back in and get in that groove for these next couple weeks.”
Even with a waiver from NASCAR for the missed races, it will be a difficult job for Busch to break into and remain in the Top 30 of the series standings, which would allow him to make the championship Chase should he earn at least one victory before the season’s 27th race.
Points, however, is not atop Busch’s priority list right now.
“We’re not going to think about points. (Team owner) Gene Haas has got me under contract to go win races, and that’s what I want to do,” he said.
“We’ll see how the points play out but right now we’re here to win some races. First step was to get our feet back underneath us, then we’ll go for those wins.”
Busch had one of the fastest cars all weekend at Phoenix and by late in the race got in position on a restart to race eventual winner and teammate Kevin Harvick for the lead.
As he did with everyone else who tried, Harvick was able to pull away. In that moment, however, Busch was able to realize the potential he held for his team.
“When you have that sense of pride of running 1-2, I knew the race shop was probably going bananas on us running so well,” Busch said.
“That’s the emotional side of it, of working through all the different things I’ve been through this off-season. Stewart-Haas Racing has been my family.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter