When Kurt Busch crashed during qualifying at Pocono last summer, nobody – Busch included – knew that we’d just seen one of modern NASCAR’s best drivers and biggest personalities behind the wheel for the last time.

Just over one year on, Busch recently confirmed that the ongoing effects of the concussion he sustained in that crash had led him to the decision to retire from Cup Series racing, closing the book on a 23-year career that yielded 34 wins from 776 starts at NASCAR’s top level, the 2004 Cup Series championship, victories in all of three of NASCAR’s national series, and a range of cameos including the Indianapolis 500 (where he earned 2004’s Rookie of the Year honors), the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the NHRA.

RACER writer Eric Johnson witnessed much of Busch’s career first-hand, and in the days after Busch’s retirement became official, the pair sat down to talk about the journey he’s taken.

Q: Now that you’ve announced your retirement and a little bit of time has gone by, how do you feel?

KURT BUSCH: I feel really good. It’s been a nice run. I’ve been very blessed and privileged to have been able to run for over two decades at the top of the NASCAR Cup Series. I’ve met all the different people, the teams, the sponsors, and have won the races and wrecked some cars and have developed teams. That’s all been part of the process. But again, it’s so much of a thankfulness to the opportunity that I had, because there’s so many other kids that are just as good as I am that didn’t get this opportunity. That’s where I feel blessed with this chance. It was a good run and I don’t think there’s anything that I could have done any better or different. Looking back on it all, I would not change a thing.

Q: When you’ve been walking around at the recent races, have drivers or fans or industry people come up to you and started hitting you with anecdotes and memories and various other things that you may have collected along the way?

KB: It’s been incredible. The older drivers, crew chiefs, legends, guys like Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, or a friend of mine named Matt Kenseth, have all come up and spoken with me. Chief chiefs like Jimmy Fennig, Pat Tryson or even my pal Matt McCall, who’s still out there digging hard right now, have all spoken with me. And then there is of my favorites, Billy Scott, who’s currently leading our team at 23XI Racing, who has checked in with me. Those moments and those stories and those feelings and those bro hugs and the respect of what’s gone on over the years have been so amazing to me.

And there is also to my sponsors, team owners and different guys down the different garage areas and paddocks that I’ve been have all talked with me. In fact, if I go to the IndyCar race in Nashville, I can’t walk with three feet and not bump into somebody that I know. This is so cool to have this opportunity now. It is so cool to be able to take a step back and still be active with the sport with Monster Energy and with Toyota and doing different things with the manufacturers. I’ve just been going down the memory lane with everything.

Q: What does your dad Tom make of all of this? He’s the guy who took you out to Pahrump Speedway in Las Vegas 30 years ago.

KB: My dad is ultimately the number one factor that helps Kyle and I make it in all motorsports. The versatility, the working and the discipline was always there. We worked on the cars. When we would wreck them, we’d have to fix them and then you would learn to race differently because it was counterproductive to moving forward. We were always able to sell off some of the cars and jump up to the next division. Then we would buy the old cars back once we made it to the sort of Cup Series.

It’s all come full circle for my dad. But ultimately, it’s his work ethic along, with my mom being there with all of us. Grandma was also always there. We had great volunteers that loved to help our race teams because what Kyle and I were out there racing they knew we had a shot to win every single time we showed a track. And that’s what led to a lot of Kyle and I being able to move up is all the men and women that helped us at volunteering back in Las Vegas.

Q: A really significant thing your dad taught both you and Kyle was adaptability, wasn’t it?

KB: It was. And it was simple because he would make us work on the car first and then you would understand it when you would drive it on the second opportunity. And there’d be nights where I’d be in Dwarf car, I’d be in a Legends car and in an IMCA Modified, all on the same night and in three divisions. I’d qualify up front and I’d run in the Trophy Dash. My dad would literally be bringing one car out to victory lane after the Trophy Dash, and I’d be jumping in next car and go out there and be ripping around. And so it was really cool back in 1996, I was able to win the Dwarf Car, Legend Car and Hobby Stock Championship at Las Vegas Speedway Park. I won all three divisions in one year. And I’m just a 16-year-old kid is out there just grabbing gears and going.

But it was all because my dad’s work ethic and what he taught us to do to preserve a car and to race it smart and to not get in wrecks and not use the equipment and to be smart with racecraft. It was the same thing in Cup. You know, you’re adapting to short tracks, intermediates road courses and superspeedways.

Then to jump on the scene and win a bunch of races in my second year in Cup, that’s when it finally slowed down and settled in for me because I had to go learn all those new racetracks, as well. And then with the 2003 IROC championship, that’s when I felt like I was on my way.

Q: IROC was some of the best racing ever.

KB: It’s a riot, you know? It was so much fun with the IndyCar guys, the drag racing guys and the World of Outlaw guys and the other stock car guys. Of course, the stock our guys had the advantage with IROC, but it was just so cool. The camaraderie and that fraternity of guys. Me and Scott Dixon; we were probably almost teenagers when we’re running against each other way back. And now look at him. He’s a top dog and legend of all of IndyCar.