The Frontstretch: 2009 Season Review: Kurt Busch by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Wednesday December 2, 2009

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2009 Season Review: Kurt Busch

Beth Lunkenheimer · Wednesday December 2, 2009

 

2009 Ride: No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge
2009 Primary Sponsors: Miller Lite, Miller Lite Taste Protector (Lowe’s), Operation Homefront (Texas)
2009 Owner: Roger Penske
2009 Crew Chief: Pat Tryson

2009 Stats: 36 Starts, 2 Wins, 10 Top 5s, 21 Top 10’s, 3 DNFs, 4th in points.
Best Finish: 1st, twice (Atlanta – Spring, Texas – Fall).
Average Finish: 12.8.

High Points: Coming into the 2009 season, Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team looked to put their abysmal performance from 2008 behind them and start fresh. The team did just that, finishing tenth in the season opener at Daytona and following up with a dominant win three weeks later at Atlanta Motor Speedway. On the way to that win, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge led 234 of the 325 laps run (72%), establishing himself as an early contender for the season championship. Busch also used that weekend to establish a new tradition: driving his victory lap in reverse around the 1.540-mile speedway. It was a celebration later named the “Unwind Lap,” a name thought of by a Kurt Busch fan through a contest held on kurtbusch.com.

Surprisingly, it took until Texas Motor Speedway late in the Chase before the No. 2 team would be able to visit Victory Lane again. Busch led 89 laps, becoming the main beneficiary when his younger brother Kyle ran out of gas with two laps left while leading. Taking over first place, Kurt Busch cruised to the win while finishing 25.686 seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin — scoring the largest margin of victory ever since electronic scoring was started in 1993.

Low Point: Busch still continues to struggle with keeping his temper under control when the car isn’t to his liking. Having listened to his radio on multiple occasions, Busch tends to get upset when changes to the car hurt the handling rather than making it better — an attitude that occasionally has led to owner Roger Penske hopping on the radio to settle things down. However, it’s important to recognize there was a noticeable change following the announcement of Pat Tryson’s departure in September. It was almost like listening to a different driver late in the Chase, as Busch managed to communicate what the car was doing to Tryson in a much more effective manner — giving the driver of the No. 2 a little more hope for what’s to come in 2010.

Summary: Kurt Busch scored the most top 10 finishes since he joined Penske Racing in 2006, displaying the type of consistency needed to contend for a championship. From 2006 to 2008, Busch had only 36 finishes inside the top 10 for all three years combined, compared to his 21 top 10s for the 2009 season. Turning things around from a miserable 2008, Penske’s No. 2 car wound up the highest-rated non-Hendrick team in the standings, the lone Dodge warrior during a season dominated by Chevrolet. But although Busch and Co. led and ran up front quite a bit, they still showed some of the same troubles as last season, as the car would fall off in the closing laps of several races.

And while they handled the distraction extremely well, the public announcement of Tryson’s departure to Michael Waltrip Racing for 2010 strained relations on the team from September on. How could it not? With owner Penske clamping down on 2010 information, Tryson was allowed in the shop for just one day a week during the Chase.

Off-Track News: In a season that was pretty quiet on the off-track front, Kurt Busch’s wife Eva stole the spotlight in late October. She won two blue ribbons and took the highest overall score in the “Lighten Up Dressage” horse show at the Latta Plantation Equestrian Center in Huntersville, North Carolina. With her Arabian show horse “C.J,” Eva Busch was a big winner in her first ever competition.

Although it’s still racing, the Kurt Busch Foundation won the inaugural King’s Cup Karting for a Cause in late May, with proceeds benefiting the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The Kurt Busch Foundation will also sponsor the 5th Annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run later this week. In the event, runners and walkers will be provided with their own Santa Suit, with all funds raised benefiting Opportunity Village for intellectual disabilities.

Team Ranking: 1st. Comparing Kurt Busch to teammates David Stremme and Sam Hornish, Jr. almost doesn’t seem fair. Neither of those two men were able to make the Chase, and Stremme wasn’t even allowed to complete the 2009 season in the No. 12 car. In fact, Hornish, Jr. scored just seven top 10 finishes, while Stremme was unable to crack the top 10 and stay there in any race this season.

2010 Outlook: With the departure of Pat Tryson, Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team get to start over with a new crew chief in 2010. Most recently, the rumor is that Steve Addington, former crew chief for the No. 18 team at Joe Gibbs Racing, has been talking to Penske about the job. Right now, it appears the holdup with Addington is contract length, but Busch has made it clear behind the scenes he prefers him on top of the pit box — an intriguing possibility considering Addington once served in that capacity for his younger brother, Kyle.

Regardless of who ends up as Busch’s crew chief in ’10, the team will have to work quickly to gel during the offseason, attempting to continue the upward direction they achieved during 2009. If Addington winds up being the choice, considering some of the things he put up with Kyle older brother Kurt will seem tame by comparison. If the two can repeat the same type of chemistry as the Busch/Tryson combo, they can translate that into on track success rather quickly.

Also of note, Busch’s contract is supposed to be up at the end of 2010. With no word on whether he’ll want to extend with Penske Racing, next season will be telling as to whether he’ll want to stick around in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge or look beyond it for a better opportunity.

Quote of the Year: “I don’t know what the problem is with Jimmie [Johnson] and me, but we’re running into each other way too often it seems. We got run into at Sonoma, and we got run into again. I’m starting to lose faith in his ability to be a three-time champion on the track. I’m disappointed. I gave him room and we got pounded in the fence. A couple runs that were spoiled by the No. 48, and I’m definitely not diggin’ it.” Comments made after the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in July, when the two made contact en route to Johnson finishing 8th and Busch 17th. The two went on to have several more on-track scuffles as their rivalry steadily grew throughout 2009.

2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: C.
2007 Grade: B+.
2008 Grade: D.
2009 Grade: A-.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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