- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2011

GAINESVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Kurt Busch’s professional drag-racing career might be a one-and-done venture.

Busch is making his Pro Stock debut at the NHRA Gatornationals this week. But with NASCAR having condensed its 2012 schedule by removing the early season off weekend, this could be Busch’s final foray into the straight-line sport _ at least at this level.

If so, he wants to make it a memorable run.

“It’s just a whole new world,” Busch said Thursday. “I’m really excited about it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a whole different challenge. But at the end of the end of the day, it’s just a race car at a race track, and I’m here to put the best effort down.”

Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion who is tied for the points lead this season, got a small taste of drag racing last year in Gainesville. He spent four days at the track, but heavy rain and flooding postponed the Sportsman class and allowed him to make just two passes.

“I said, ‘Heck, the next time I run, I’ve got to be in a pro division,’” Busch said. “So we ramped it up.”

Did he ever.

Busch got manufacturer backing and corporate sponsorship, then signed up for the one of the NHRA’s most competitive fields of the year.

“There’s 30 cars registered,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. I thought there would be like 18 and two guys would go home. There’s going to be just about the same amount of guys that make the show that are going home.”

Qualifying runs are Friday and Saturday, with the top 16 cars advancing to Sunday’s finale.

Busch has high expectations, especially after some speedy practice runs at Bradenton Motorsports Park. He also got tips from Pro Stock regular and fellow Dodge driver Allen Johnson.

“He’s going to do fine, I’m sure,” Johnson said. “He’s been in a lot of pressure situations, a lot bigger than this, so I don’t think that part’s going to get him. He’s really smooth, has a good feel for the clutch and the throttle, and has learned the importance of staging properly and shift points.

“If everything goes as planned, and the car doesn’t give us any hiccups, I really expect him to qualify in the top half (of the field).”

Busch got hooked on drag racing at the U.S. Nationals in 2008, when he watched the event with legendary driver Don Prudomme. About the same time, a drag strip was being built near his home in Charlotte.

Not long after, his wife bought him some seat time at the famed Roy Hill drag-racing school. Busch then picked up a 1970 Dodge Challenger off eBay for $15,000 and has been tinkering since.

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