The Frontstretch: 2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Kurt Busch by Tony Lumbis -- Monday December 16, 2013

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2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Kurt Busch

Tony Lumbis · Monday December 16, 2013

 

2013 Ride: No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2013 Primary Sponsors: Furniture Row, Wonder Bread
2013 Owners: Barney Visser
2013 Crew Chief: Todd Berrier

Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 11 top 5s, 16 top 10s, 2 DNFs, 10th in driver points.
Best Finish: 2nd – Twice (Richmond – September, Kansas – October).
Average Finish: 14.7.

High Point: By far, the high point of 2013 for Kurt Busch was giving Barney Visser the distinction of owning the first ever single car team to compete in the Chase. In fact, the 10th place points finish at season’s end is 14 positions better than the team’s previous best year of 24th set the year before.

Kurt Busch

Reaching the Chase was really the outcome of a series of high points throughout 2013, which resulted in a very good statistical year for the elder Busch. Eleven top 5 finishes was the most for Busch since his breakout year in 2002, and his 10th place points finish was his first top 10 in the final standings since 2009, with power house teams Roush Fenway and Penske Racing respectively.

It’s no secret that Busch’s temper has ruined relationships with teams, media and fans throughout his career. While he did have his moments this season, Busch was able to strike a balance between maturity and passion, giving the No. 78 team the spark it needed to reach the most important milestone in its nine year existence. While this team and driver tandem will not return for an encore performance in 2014, the relationship has turned out to be mutually beneficial. Busch used his time at Furniture Row Racing to secure a ride with one of the premier teams in the garage area, Stewart-Haas Racing while Furniture Row Racing proved itself worthy of another Chase contending driver in Martin Truex, Jr.

Low Point: In past years, this section would usually be littered with tirades, suspensions and confrontations for Kurt Busch. While he did have his moments, like giving general manager Joe Garone an earful about his pit crew over the radio and ironically becoming the target of future boss Tony Stewart’s fury at Richmond, they certainly did not define his season.

In fact, the only low point for the 34 year-old is that he didn’t record a victory. Several times throughout the season, the No. 78 team was running in the lead or in contention when the handling would fade, a slow pit stop would occur or a crash would end their chances. Perhaps the most heartbreaking instance occurred in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire last July. Busch had led a race high 102 laps when slight contact from the No. 20 of Matt Kenseth sent the Furniture Row Racing Chevy into the No. 39 of Ryan Newman. Busch would return only to finish a disappointing 31st.

Busch and FRR have a lot to be proud of in 2013. It is just a shame they weren’t able to celebrate in victory lane, denying what many would consider a feel good story.

Summary: This past season could be best described as an experiment for both team and driver. Busch would attempt to resurrect his career by seeing what his talents could do for with a team that appeared to be a driver away from getting over the proverbial hump. Barney Visser and his Colorado based organization were willing to welcome a driver with a contentious past into their shop so they can learn exactly what their team’s capability was.

This group came out of the gate slowly, finishing 20th or worse in the first seven events of the year while leading only one lap. However, slowly but surely, they began their ascension through the rankings and serving notice to the competition that this small team would be a threat to steal away a Chase berth from one of the “big guys”. They did just that, reeling off top 10 finishes in five of the last six races of the regular season, including a runner-up finish at Richmond that put them solidly in the Chase.

The “little team that could” may have used all of its energy getting into the Chase as it was feast or famine once they made the show. The No. 78 team had three top 5 finishes, paired with seven finishes of 13th and worse. However, by all accounts, the experiment that was 2013 should be considered a great success for both team and driver.

2013 Team Ranking: Furniture Row Racing management has not been shy about expressing interest in starting a second team should the right sponsorship support come along. Until that happens, they are a one car team, making the team ranking self-explanatory.

Off-Track News: Once again Kurt Busch was actively involved with the Armed Forces Foundation, that offers assistance to active-duty and retired military personnel including financial assistance, therapeutic recreational and outreach programs, hospital dinners and educational initiatives.

During a week-long tour of Denver that included throwing out the first pitch at a Colorado Rockies game, Busch took part in a charity golf tournament that benefitted the foundation. On October 31st, the second annual “Busch Whacked” mud run was held at Texas Motors Speedway’s dirt track that benefitted the Armed Forces Foundation along with Speedway Children’s Charities – Texas Chapter. Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley and Juan Pablo Montoya were just some of the drivers that competed with Busch in the event.

2014 Outlook: On the surface, the pairing of Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing has a championship ring to it. However, there are two factors to consider before any kind of success is guaranteed. First, the signing came under the most unusual of circumstances. Just one month after Tony Stewart balked at expanding to a fourth car because of financial concerns, partner Gene Haas signed Busch as the team’s fourth driver while Smoke was in the hospital recovering from a broken leg. One would assume that the signing is forcing the three-time champion to expand the organization he co-owns at a quicker pace that he may be comfortable with.

The second factor is that the 2004 champion will be working with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost, who was the race engineer on the No. 39 car. The last time Busch was paired with a rookie head wrench was in 2006 when Roy McCauley was on top of the pit box for the blue deuce. That season produced a win, but inconsistent results, yielding a disappointing 16th place points finish. The pressure will be on Knost to hit the ground running while learning how to deal with a “passionate” voice behind the wheel.

It would not be surprising to see Busch return to victory lane after a two year absence, but expecting enough consistency out of this new team to make to the Chase is probably a tall order.

2011 Frontstretch.com Grade: C.
2012 Grade: C+.
2013 Grade: B+.

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