NASCAR driver Kurt Busch ready for NHRA challenge

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NHRA regulars welcomed Busch, mostly because of the extra attention they know he will bring to the sport. Famed NASCAR drivers Richard Petty and David Pearson briefly did the same in the 1960s. But NASCAR’s grueling, 36-race schedule makes it difficult for full-time drivers to devote attention elsewhere.

“That’s great that he loves drag racing,” said 15-time Funny Car champion John Force. “He’s great at what he does in NASCAR. Over here, let’s see what he can do. I guarantee he’ll be at the top of his game. If he focused at this 100 percent, he’d become a champion.

“At the end of the day, he’s going to bring people with him and he can educate them, so this is a big opportunity for us to have the likes of NASCAR over here.”

Johnson said Busch’s presence means even more to the Pro Stock division, the NHRA’s third series behind Top Fuel and Funny Car.

“We need some more hype in Pro Stock,” Johnson said. “NHRA doesn’t give us our due. ESPN doesn’t give us our due. We’ve got to figure out some ways to get ESPN to care about us, to get us more TV time. Shoot, this is one way for sure. Bringing any star over _ a football player, a band member, somebody with his status _ that’s huge.”

Busch understands all that, even though it was never his goal.

“I’m just a new guy,” Busch said. “I don’t want the extra attention. But I know what I can do for the sport by bringing the attention over and creating excitement for the Gatornationals. Just being a regular guy and going out there to have some fun? I can’t do that. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it.”

Even if it’s for one event.

Busch already has compared the NASCAR and NHRA schedules and found a drag-racing event in Denver in late July that coincides with another one of NASCAR’s off weeks. He hasn’t decided whether he will try to make that one. How he performs in Gainesville could be a factor, though.

“It’s just tough because our schedule is so demanding,” Busch said. “If there was an NHRA race in the middle of the week, yeah, we’re going to be there. … Anytime I can be at a racetrack, whether it’s a road race, a dirt track, a quarter-mile drag strip, I’m going to be there. But at this level, to compete in Pro Stock, to do it professionally, to have the sponsors lined up, to cross-promote, this is just one opportunity right now.

“We’ll see what the future holds.”

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