Of the 143 drivers who have made NASCAR Monster Energy Cup starts at Kansas Speedway, only three have started their engines in all 27 races since the track opened in 2001.
Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch were all raw rookies 18 years ago. Now they’re in their early 40s and still boast impressive resumes entering Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.
Busch (2004) and Harvick (2014) would go on to become Cup champions, Newman was series runner-up in 2014 and all three are former Daytona 500 winners.
Back in 2001, Busch was coming off a second-place finish in the NASCAR trucks series; Newman was in the midst of what was called an “ABC” season of ARCA, Busch Series and Cup racing; and Harvick, the 2000 Busch series champion, was thrust into the seat that belonged to the late Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“It makes you feel old,” Harvick, 43, said with a laugh. “I did one of the first PR days at Kansas Speedway when it opened, and there was not one single thing around that racetrack other than the highway. So to see what’s been built has been neat to see and how it’s all developed and how it’s all changed.
“It’s a fun racetrack because there is just so much to do around the racetrack, and it’s been a successful racetrack for us.”
Harvick has won three times at Kansas Speedway (fall of 2013 and ’16 and spring of ’18), tying Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the track record and has won a record-five poles, including the fastest qualifying lap (197.773 mph in October 2014) in track history, breaking the record 194.658 mph he set the previous spring.
All three of Harvick’s Cup wins came after the repave and reconfiguration of the 1.5-mile tri-oval in 2012. He also won a Xfinity series race at Kansas Speedway in 2006 en route to the series championship.
“It’s a racetrack that for whatever reason, fits my style and what we do with the cars,” said Harvick, the only one of the three still alive in the playoffs. “It’s a very high-speed racetrack. You run the middle to the bottom of the racetrack. With all the speed and how tricky the entrance is into turn one, you can miss your line easily. So, you have to be very specific about where you put your car and pay attention to what you’re doing.”
Newman finished second to Gordon in 2001 and 2002 at Kansas before winning the 2003 race at Kansas, one of his career-best eight victories that year. He took the lead with 28 laps remaining and held off Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield for the win. In recent years, Newman, 41, has finished in the Top 10 in 2010, ’14, ’15 and ’16 at Kansas.
As for Busch, who has 31 wins in his Cup career, he’s 0-for-27 at Kansas.
“There are some tracks that click right away for some drivers and for some reason, me and Kansas Speedway haven’t clicked,” said Busch, who finished second to Harvick in 2013 and to Martin Truex Jr. in 2017. “In 2013, I was actually in a backup car that I wrecked in practice. It’s funny how certain tracks talk to you and certain tracks you can’t find that perfect rhythm.”
Busch, 41, won earlier this season in the No. 41 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet at Kentucky Speedway, which has a similar layout to Kansas.
“I’m hopeful we can take our Kentucky package to help give us our best chance to win,” Busch said, “and put a win in that column instead of a goose egg.”
Busch’s failure to win at Kansas has not detracted from his enjoyment in racing there.
“It’s amazing how the years have flown by,” Busch said. “I love the atmosphere; the Midwest fans are great, the tailgating, the infield section, you get a lot of energy from the Midwest fans. It’s been fun to race there over the years.”