Kurt Busch’s win in last Sunday’s Advent Health 400 at the Kansas Speedway was important for several reasons, some of which may seem obvious while others might not be so readily evident. The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion passed two of the biggest stars in the sport when he moved around his brother Kyle and Kyle Larson late in the going to secure the victory. At the same time, there were other factors that made this win by the 23XI Racing Toyota significant and noteworthy.
The 43-year-old native of Las Vegas entered that event 21st in the Cup Series standings and below the NASCAR Playoffs cutline as the regular season reached its halfway mark. The chances for Busch and his No. 45 crew to have any shot at all of earning a championship realistically relied on winning a race to earn entry into the Playoffs. But as far as the sport of NASCAR racing is concerned, the Playoff implications that came from that race might not have been the most important aspect of Busch’s triumph.
Whenever the time comes for Busch to hang up his racing helmet, he will at some point join the ranks of those who have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For that reason every victory is an important one as he adds to his career totals. Along with the previously mentioned championship, the veteran driver has scored a total of 34 wins including a Daytona 500.
But the fact that Busch added another win was not the most important thing to happen last Sunday either.
When it was announced that the Mars candy company and its M&M’s brand would not return to the Joe Gibbs Racing team and driver Kyle Busch after the conclusion of this season, it was damaging to not only that team and driver but to the sport as a whole. Not only is a prominent NASCAR team losing its primary backer but that company produces a consumer product not from the automotive industry. Racing cannot simply rely on makers of motor oil and auto parts stores as its only sponsors.
Kurt Busch’s car on Sunday carried the logos of the Jordan Brand, makers of athletic shoes and apparel. Not only was it important for that company to win in its first outing as a primary sponsor but it was important to show other consumer product producers that NASCAR is a viable option for marketing their goods. The exposure received may or may not have an immediate impact on sales but the hope is that the involvement in NASCAR can open the door to a new market that will have a long lasting impact.
Of course, NASCAR hopes that the involvement of the Jordan Brand along with that company’s leader, basketball legend Michael Jordan, will open the door to a new audience. The former NBA star is also a co-owner, along with NASCAR star Denny Hamlin, of 23XI Racing.
That team entered NASCAR last year as a single-car operation with Bubba Wallace as its driver. They and their driver achieved their first win last fall at Talladega Super Speedway. Busch joined the company during the past off-season as the pilot of their No. 45 Toyota.
In Sunday’s post-race press conference at Kansas, Hamlin recognized the significance of the win from a business perspective.
“Yeah, it’s big on a lot of levels,” Hamlin declared. “Obviously Jordan Brand, their very first race. It’s just huge. I said it when Bubba won last year how huge it was. This is obviously a big one. Yeah, that’s a lot of the reason we started this race team is Michael felt like NASCAR was a platform that didn’t maybe always understand his brand. He thought this was a good way to branch out the Jordan Brand.”
Hamlin also pointed out during Sunday’s presser that the Jordan Brand waited for the right time to enter the fray as a sponsor. The perennial championship contender for Joe Gibbs Racing believes the Jordan-based scheme on the car as well as the race win will have an immediate impact on one type of racing collectible.
“Obviously, they sat on the sidelines for the first year of this team, and I mentioned that in the media,” Hamlin stated. “They said, ‘We just want to see how it goes and see how the NASCAR fans welcome us’. Certainly I think that if this is not the number one sold diecast when it comes out, I’ll be scratching my head. I’m pretty certain it will be. But the Jordan Brand itself, you know, we’re trying to get to a younger demographic.”
‘Get to a younger demographic’ are the same words NASCAR and its partners have been saying for years. While it may seem odd that a win by a 43-year-old driver might serve the purpose of getting the attention of younger fans, that could in fact be the case. At least that’s the hope of those who lead the sport as well as Jordan’s company and race team.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, summed up the importance of Sunday’s race for his team, and perhaps even the sport, by saying, “Certainly there’s been no win that I’ve had that has equaled the emotions of this one for sure.”
Yes, Kurt Busch’s win at Kansas last weekend was important in that it created a certain degree of chaos within the NASCAR Playoffs eligibility situation and it added another trophy to the collection of a veteran NASCAR star. But the real significance is more likely that it showed new teams, or even established teams that have not been counted among the elite, that success in this sport is attainable. And more, sponsors from outside the realm of traditional racing backers can achieve brand awareness through NASCAR and might even open new markets.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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