97 Days until the Daytona 500

Car number 97 has started 686 races and has 17 wins, 8 poles, 74 top 5s, 182 top 10s, and 223 DNFs in NASCAR Cup Series Competition.

  • Kurt Busch drove the #97 Ford for Roush Racing in 184 races from 2000-2005, earning 14 wins and the 2004 NEXTEL Cup (MENCS) Championship.
    Kurt Busch in 2004

    Late in the 2000 Cup Series season, Jack Roush opted to replace driver Chad Little with his young Truck series star Kurt Busch to prepare him for the 2001 season. Kurt started 6 races at the end of the year with Crew Cheif Jeff Hammond. In 2001 Kurt ran for Rookie of the Year, but was overshadowed by late entry Kevin Harvick. Kurt started the year in an unsponsored car, but found partners in Sharpie and Rubbermade midway through the season.

Kurt Bush, 2001 Texas Spring race.

In the 2001 Daytona 500 Busch made memorable contact with Dale Earnhardt just before the halfway point of the race. Earnhardt gave Busch the bird shortly after. Busch recalls this as the only on-track interaction he ever had with “The Intimidator.”  Busch crashed out with 43 laps remaining in the race, and Earnhardt  lost his life in an incident on the final lap. Bush qualified for 35 of 36 races in 2001, missing only the originally scheduled season finale in Atlanta in November.

2002 would be an eventful year for Kurt. He earned his first win at Bristol in the Food City 500. Busch dominated the latter half of the race, but was passed by Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go. In the next corner Busch knocked Spencer out of the way to reclaim the lead. The incident was the first in a long saga between the two hot-heads, and coined the phrase “Jimmy Spencer never forgets.”

Busch again found himself the center of controversy after spinning Robby Gordon late in the Winston All-Star race. After the race Kurt admitted that he intentionally spun the #31 car “to put on a good show.” Busch was fined $10,000 by NASCAR and put on probation for the remainder of the year.

Jimmy Spencer kept his promise from Bristol and retaliated against Busch at Indianapolis later in the season. After the wreck, Busch reffered to  Spencer as a “decrepit old has-been or maybe I should say a never-was.” Spencer replied “Kurt has a lot to learn, and some of that is to control his mouth.” Late in the season Busch would win 3 of the last 5 races of the season- Martinsville, Atlanta, and Homestead-Miami.

In 2003 Spencer and Busch met again at Michigan. Busch intentionally tried to damage Spencer’s fenders after Spencer was having a rare top-5 day. The incident led to a confrontation in the garage after the race where Spencer punched Busch while Busch was still in the car. Spencer was suspended for a race and Busch was placed on probation. Kurt would go on to win the next weekend at Bristol, one of his 4 wins in 2003.

In 2004 Busch won 3 races- his 4th straight at Bristol and sweeping the season at New Hampshire. The season would be one of great change for NASCAR. The Cup Series’ new title sponsor “NEXTEL” brought a format change to decide the championship. Kurt would end up winning the initial “Chase for the NEXTEL Cup” (The first version of what is now know as The NASCAR Playoffs) in dramatic fashion. After losing a wheel at the season finale in Miami, Kurt rebounded for a 5th place finish and a championship clinch.

Kurt Busch after winning the 2004 Championship

2005  was shaping up to be a strong followup to Busch’s championship. After 34 races of the season Busch had racked up 3 wins at Phoenix,  Pocono, and Richmond. Midway through the season Kurt made the startling announcement that he would be leaving his Championship winning #97 team to replace Rusty Wallace in the #2 car at Penske Racing.

Busch’s 2005 season ended two races short after a confrontation during the fall Phoenix race weekend with Maricopa County Sheriff deputies on November 11, 2005, when he was pulled over for suspicion of drunken driving and cited for reckless driving.At first, the Sheriff’s department claimed that their equipment for sobriety testing had failed and they could not release results of his drunk driving tests. This claim later proved to be false, but by this time, Roush Racing responded two days later by suspending Busch for the remainder of the season and replacing him with Kenny Wallace for the final two races. As Busch had already signed a contract with Penske for 2006, this officially ended the relationship between Kurt and the team. Team president Geoff Smith famously declared they were “officially retiring as Kurt Busch’s apologists.” Busch was 8th in the Cup Series Chase for the Championship at the time of the incident. He was sentenced to serve 50 hours of community service which was to be completed within one year. In November 2006, one year after the incident, Busch was declared an honorary deputy in Maricopa County.

Kenny Wallace started 2 races in the #97 in 2005  following  Kurt Busch’s suspension from Roush.
  • Chad Little preceeded Busch in the #97 car. Little started the number 128 times with no wins. From 1994-1996 Little started a handful of races for Pollex Racing in the #97, but mostly focused on racing in the NASCAR Busch (XFINITY) Series.
    Chad Little in 1995

    Little and the Pollex team began running Winston Cup (MENCS) races full time in 1997 driving the #97 John Deer Pontiac. The team struggled to make races throughout the 1997 season.  Late in the year Jack Roush purchased the team, adding the team to the Roush Racing Stable for 1998.

    Chad little in a Pontiac, 1997

The switch to Roush meant the team would switch to Ford as a manufacturer. In 1998, Little drove for Roush full-time with Jeff Hammond as crew chief. Running 32 out of 33 races, he had seven top-tens, including a second-place run at Texas, finishing behind Mark Martin, and finished a career-high 15th in points. He was unable to duplicate that performance in 1999, posting just five top-tens and finishing 23rd in points. After just one top-ten in 2000, Roush announced Little would not drive the 97 the following season. Late in the year, Little was pulled out of the car and replaced by his successor, Kurt Busch.

Little’s #97 as a Jack Roush Ford, 1999

This would effectively be the end of Little’s driving career, aside from a few starts for underfunded teams in the early 2000s. Chad found a sucessful career as a NASCAR administrator.  Chad provided competition support for the NASCAR Mexico Corona Series, and became the Tour Director for the Whelen Modified Tour.

Starting in 2013, Chad took on the role of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series managing director. On February 2, 2015, NASCAR announced that Little would be moving into a new role as a Managing Director of Technical Inspection and Officiating. His role as director was replaced by another former driver, Elton Sawyer.

Chad Little and his glorious mullet, circa 1998

Chad’s son Jesse Little now drives the #97 in the K&N Pros Series East and occasionally in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, most recently at Phoenix.

nascar-truck-iowa-2017-jesse-little-triad-cnc-toyota-tundra
Jesse Little at Iowa, 2017

 

 

  •  Henley Gray  started the #97 machine 119 times from 1965-1967 with no wins.

    1967Ford
    Henley Gray
  • Bill Amick raced the #97 33 times in his career earning his only career win in number the at Capitol Speedway in 1957.

    Bill Amick (97)
  • Red Farmer started car #97 a total of 23 times from 1967-1975 with no wins in the number.

    Red Farmer
  • Indy Car and USAC legend Parnelli Jones made 34 starts in his foray into NASCAR including 4 career wins. Of these, 8 races and 2 wins were run in car #97.

    Parnelli Jones
  • Speedy Thompson made only 2 starts in #97 during the 1955 season, but his start at Memphis-Arkansas Speedway resulted in a win.

    Speedy Thompson
    Speedy Thompson
  • Other Notable Names in #97
    • LeeRoy Yarbrough, 6 starts
    • Morgan Shepherd, 3 starts
    • Geoff Bodine, 2 starts
    • Possum Jones, 2 starts
    • Ken Ragan, 1 start
    • Coo Coo Marlin, 1 start
    • Ned Jarrett, 1 start
    • Bill Elliott, 1 start
    • Mario Andretti, 1 start
    • Cale Yarborough, 1 start
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