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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2007 Driver Review: Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch
2007 Ride: No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge
2007 Primary Sponsor: Miller Lite
2007 Owner: Roger Penske
2007 Crew Chief: Roy McCauley (February – April), Troy Raker (April – June), Pat Tryson (June – November)

Stats: 36 races, two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s, seventh in points.

High Point: Making the Chase seemed almost impossible for Busch after a 100-point penalty assessed by NASCAR, following a pit road incident with Tony Stewart‘s car at Dover. After that 13th race of the season, Busch found himself tied for 17th with Greg Biffle, 740 points back from leader Jeff Gordon.

But in the 13 races before the Chase began, Busch turned his season around, scoring two wins and seven top-10 finishes to work his way up to 11th in points – just in time for the start of the Chase. NASCAR’s new playoff rules bumped Busch up even further – seeding him in fifth, just 40 points out of the lead. That’s a net gain of 700 from that awful moment in June, capping one of the more impressive comebacks since the advent of the Chase format.

Low Point: One word: Dover. After being involved in an on-track accident with Stewart during the Autism Speaks 400, an angry Busch went down pit road seeking revenge. Losing his cool, he ran right into the No. 20 Chevrolet while Stewart’s crew worked on the car. In the fracas, jackman Jason Lee jumped onto the hood, barely avoiding being run into by Busch’s Dodge. Afterwards, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite car knew he had done wrong:

“I wanted to make a point, but when you make a point like that it always ends up making it worse,” Busch said. “It was my fault for doing that. The issue was out on the racetrack. It was not on pit road.”

NASCAR parked Busch for the remainder of the race, fining him $100,000 and 100 points. The 29-year-old driver was lucky he wasn’t suspended; however, he was put on probation until December 31st.

Summary: In his first season with Penske Racing, Busch didn’t even make the Chase for the Nextel Cup in 2006 – so 2007 was definitely an improvement upon that. Some would say his season was nothing to shake a stick at, but Busch thinks differently.

“With wins, a pole and a seventh-place finish in the points, we definitely covered all the basics to say that 2007 was a great year for our Miller Lite Dodge team,” said Busch. “When you look back on the year and take into consideration that we accomplished all that we did with three different crew chiefs, you certainly have to label it a successful transitional season for our team.”

The Las Vegas native started the season with Roy McCauley calling the shots; but McCauley left early in the season to be with his wife – who was very ill – and team engineer Troy Raker took over as crew chief. Following the June race in Michigan, Pat Tryson took over and finished out the season. Both former Roush employees, the chemistry between the two was immediate; Busch scored 11 of his 14 top-10 finishes after Tryson took over.

“The key moment for us was hiring Pat Tryson,” said Busch. “We had been in a crew chief quandary, per se, a transitional phase – we had three different crew chiefs running the show. Once we got him aboard, things clicked on all eight cylinders, and we were able to work our way into the top 10.”

Unfortunately, he finished outside the top 20 in the first two races of the Chase, putting himself too far behind in the race to become a two-time Nextel Cup champion.

2008 Outlook: Before the 2008 Sprint Cup season begins, Busch will drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. he will team up with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe in a Riley-Pontiac fielded as a joint effort between Penske and Wayne Taylor Racing.

After that, the older Busch will return to the No. 2 Dodge for the 2008 Sprint Cup Season, with Miller Lite as his primary sponsor. Crew chief Pat Tryson – now four for four in making a driver eligible for the Chase – is also expected to return. The momentum established between Tryson and Busch at the end of ’07 should be more than enough to carry them through Daytona and beyond as the ’08 season gets underway.

However, there is a challenge or two which lies ahead. Roger Penske has thrown around the idea of moving Busch’s points to Sam Hornish Jr. The No. 77 that Hornish is slated to drive is currently not in the Top 35 in owner points, and would not be locked into the first five races of the season as a result. If Penske chooses to pull the swap, Busch should still be OK; he’ll have his former champion’s provisional to fall back on in qualifying, should he struggle to make any of those first five races. Penske had not decided whether or not he’ll be moving the points at press time.

“We have a number of options and we’re looking at all of them… we’ll see,” Penske said. “This isn’t all about the first five races. This is about a long career for a great racecar driver and someone who has delivered for us for a long time at Penske Racing.”

The owner was referring to Hornish, of course; but expect Busch to keep delivering for Penske no matter what decision is made.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: B+

Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.

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