On Sunday, 7 November, Kyle Busch finished the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season by finishing seventh at Phoenix Raceway. A week later, he was driving a rallycross car at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, approximately thirty miles away from Phoenix, for the first time with Nitro Rallycross. After fighting into the final, he concluded his debut in fourth.
Busch, a two-time Cup Series champion and one of the biggest names in stock car racing today, dipped his feet into rallycross on 13/14 November as part of the NRX weekend at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona. Although he had prior dirt experience, rallycross was unknown territory for him.
He drove the #51 ZipRecruiter #GoNitro car, the number being the same as one of his Camping World Truck Series vehicles. As Toyota, whom Busch has raced for in NASCAR since 2008, does not have an NRX car, meaning he raced in an unbadged Subaru (Toyota owns a twenty-percent stake in the make).
With his inexperience, it took time to adjust to the discipline as evidenced by finishing with the second-slowest time in the opening practice and losing his battle qualifying race to ex-NASCAR driver Scott Speed. He finished fifth in his heat race to be relegated to the semi-final, where he placed runner-up to another former NASCAR competitor in Steve Arpin.
He started sixth in the final and battled with Cabot Bingham throughout the first two circuits to stay in seventh. Busch took the Joker Lap on lap two after which he passed Tanner Foust for sixth, though Foust regained the spot. However, lap four saw Arpin and Kevin Hansen retire from the race after hitting the wall, which promoted Busch to fifth. On the final lap, Busch and Bingham passed Foust to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Series founder Travis Pastrana won his first rallycross event since Global Rallycross at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2012. Only adding to the NASCAR connection, Pastrana raced full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (where Busch is the only driver with over 100 career wins) in 2013 and has since dabbled on occasion in the Camping World Truck Series, while New Hampshire is a regular stop on the NASCAR calendar; Busch has six wins there in the Cup Series.
“That was a lot of fun,” Busch commented. “As soon as my guys were telling me, ‘P4, good job!’ across the line, I was like, ‘Damn it, it wasn’t third! Like, at least be on the podium.’ Lot of attrition there. Passed two of them at least, so I felt like I fairly got fourth-ish. Couple guys broke, but it was a good run. Had some fun.
“The biggest thing was obviously learning the car and the trade, and trying to figure all of that out and I certainly have a long ways to go. We’re not even tip of the mountain yet. Certainly would enjoy the opportunity to come back and run some more, run some different tracks.”
Busch also compared the experience to road course racing in NASCAR with “just a lot more jumps in the way”. He explained he “brought a little bit of NASCAR here. Just slowing down for the corner, figuring out how to go slow, fast. That was kind of the biggest thing, especially like turn one, turn three, try not to get too far into there but then cutting the bottom and trying to get out of there, position yourself for the next turn.”
Busch, Pastrana, Speed, and Arpin comprised the Supercar grid with NASCAR experience, while the NEXT division’s winner Sage Karam has also made Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series starts in 2021. Older brother Kurt Busch also tested a rallycross car in the past. Other NASCAR drivers like fellow Cup champions Chase Elliott and Joey Logano have also expressed interest in racing the series.
With Busch not ruling out the possibility of running more NRX races in the future, two more rounds are scheduled at Glen Helen Raceway on 20/21 November and the Florida International Rally & Motorsports Park on 4/5 December.