The Frontstretch: Racing to the Point: Busch Lets On-Track Performance Do Talking In 2013 by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday June 11, 2013

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The Kurt Busch experiment is paying off for Furniture Row Racing. It was an experiment like when Reese Bobby puts the cougar in the car in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and then asked Ricky Bobby to drive. The cougar was either going to attack or Ricky Bobby was going to use the fear of sitting beside the beast to drive faster. Both happened.

By running up front, Kurt Busch has put the No. 78 in the spotlight in 2013, without any colorful language. How unusual!

I’m not sure whether Kurt Busch is the cougar or Ricky Bobby, but you can be damn sure he is driving fast. On Sunday, he logged his third top-10 in the last four races and fifth top-10 of the season by finishing seventh at Pocono. Busch had five top-10s all of last season.

In his 14th start, he matched Regan Smith’s total from 2011 for most top-10s by a driver for the team in any season.

Busch has 22 more races to set a new team record. That isn’t exactly the most difficult mountain to climb, but qualifying for the Chase would be an unbelievable accomplishment, and there is no reason to think that he can’t do so. Busch is 15th in the standings — 21 points out of 10th — and is running much better lately than the drivers directly in front of him — Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle.

What a difference a year makes.

Remember Darlington in 2012? Busch dished out enough profanity over the team radio to make Richard Pryor blush. Busch’s frantic screams weren’t as appealing as listening to Pryor, either. The highlight of Kurt’s rough night came when he made contact with Ryan Newman off Turn 2 and slid down to the inside wall, only to utter, “I hate my f***** job.”

It was the first time in history that a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver ever uttered those words. If I was Busch’s crew chief, I think I would’ve car-jacked the pace car and crashed Kurt out of the race myself. That incident was Busch’s 2-12 in a nutshell.

His 2011 couldn’t have ended much uglier with the infamous Jerry Punch interview (“Why couldn’t they tape that sh*t?”), which was followed up with getting booted from one of NASCAR’s top teams. In the offseason, we heard speeches about how Busch had turned a corner, but then by Las Vegas, things were headed downhill.

“There’s a f***** black cloud above my head. F*** that thing,” Busch said over the radio at Vegas , the third race of 2012.

The remained of the season was a circus. From nearly running over Ryan Newman’s crew at Darlington to getting parked at Talladega for peeling off with a safety worker half in the car and equipment on the roof. Even the high moments, such as his third-place finish at Sonoma had lows — the interview with the fake tears afterward. SPEED Channel’s Kurt Busch: The Outlaw documentary shed some light on what Busch has been through and gave him a chance to defend himself, but the lasting image was Busch blaming everyone else for his problems. He made the documentary into his pity party. Those people usually make the same mistakes in cycles.

That’s why I never would have bet on success in the latest Kurt Busch experiment. Just look at the data. Furniture Row Racing is a single-car operation — out of Colorado — that has shown a lack of resources to run at the front in the past. Furniture Row is certainly higher up on the Sprint Cup food chain than Phoenix Racing, but the teams also share a lot of similarities. Yet, somehow this season has gone much differently.

I’m sure Kurt hasn’t exactly been Mary Poppins on the radio, but he’s been tame enough so that those not at the track aren’t listening to his sound bites on YouTube each week. Other than winning the pole at Darlington, and having a car capable of winning at Richmond and in the All-Star race at Charlotte, we haven’t heard much from Kurt, period.

His on-track results are starting to do his talking again. That’s what Furniture Row bet on when they hired him late last season, even though the odds seemed against it. No offense to Regan Smith or really anybody else the team could’ve hired for that matter, but they weren’t going to put that small team in Chase contention like Busch has. Furniture Row’s biggest problem with Busch may be holding on to him at season’s end when Richard Childress Racing and possibly Earnhardt-Ganassi are back on the market for a driver.

I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. It’s only been 14 of 36 races. We still have a lot of Kurt Busch to go. So far, we’ve seen the good, but in the final 22 races who knows whether we’ll see the good, the bad or the ugly.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Carl D.
06/11/2013 11:55 AM

Nice article. Busch has always been a driver whose lack of maturity seemed to offset his immense talent. I hope he continues his current growth both on and off the track.