Just days after discussing “a handful of contracts sitting on [his] desk” saying “whoever you want to plug in there–there’s more than three,” Kurt Busch announced he has signed with Furniture Row Racing to pilot the No. 78 Chevrolet for the 2013 season. He’ll replace Regan Smith, who has driven for the organization since 2009, when they ran on a part-time basis before returning to full-time competition beginning in 2010.
“They want to go to the next level, and they are committed to Sprint Cup Racing,” Busch told SPEEDTV’s Steve Byrnes Monday night on “NASCAR Race Hub”:http://nascar.speedtv.com/article/cup-kurt-busch-speaks-about-is-move-to-furniture-row-racing/ where he made the announcement. “The family atmosphere Barney (Visser, team owner) talked to me about, right when I first showed up was his most important thing. It was great to talk with other owners this year; different sponsors. So I’m committed to this program–Furniture Row–and I’m excited about it, so 2013 is going to be great.”
In a release posted on the team’s website, FRR general manager Joe Garone made it clear the organization is just as committed to Busch.
“Though we have made strides as a resourceful single-car Sprint Cup team, we are not where we want to be, which led us to the difficult decision of making a driver change as we move forward,” Garone said. “Kurt’s exceptional driving talent has the capacity to take a team to another level. We look forward to having Kurt join our Denver-based organization and feel his racing experience will play an important role as we plan ahead to 2013.”
Aside from talent and experience, the older Busch brother also brings along with him a tendency to have emotional outbursts on a tough day. In fact, it’s that trait that had many speculating he’d never land a top-tier ride in NASCAR again, especially since a “YouTube video captured by a fan”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsaBQq5D4Zg showed Busch berating veteran ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch in the garage area. The incident ultimately led the 34-year-old and Penske Racing to “mutually agree” to part ways.
Enter Phoenix Racing, an organization who had scored four top 10s, including a win with Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009, and hadn’t done a whole lot else despite getting their engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Team owner James Finch took a gamble on the volatile temper and signed Busch for a one year deal behind the wheel of the No. 51 Chevrolet.
In a year where Busch came in with a bounce to his step and optimism in his voice, the trouble quickly began at Darlington in May. After running into the back of Ryan Newman on pit road, an incident that Busch called an accident caused by taking off his helmet, NASCAR fined the driver of the No. 51 Chevrolet $50,000 and place him on probation through July 25th. Less than a month later, he was in trouble once again for cussing at Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass at Dover, only this time it meant a one-race suspension and an apology issued by Busch.
Despite the suspension following two separate incidents in a “make or break” situation for Busch’s career, his Phoenix Racing team continued to stand behind him, voting to keep the driver around. But with the lack of sponsorship coming in combined with the changing 2013 stock cars that would make Finch’s fleet obsolete, it was only a matter of time before Busch would be forced to find work elsewhere.
The move to FRR shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise considering the team has expressed an interest in the 2004 champion since the beginning of the year. Instead, it’s more of a next step in his recovery. It’s no secret that Finch’s organization has been running on minimal sponsorship, but on the other hand, FRR has a decent amount of resources and a solid engine partnership with Richard Childress Racing.
But the real key is whether Busch learned anything from his suspension in June. On the surface it appears he has, having avoided the spotlight for much of the three months since then despite just three lead-lap finishes since posting a third-place result at Sonoma just two weeks later. While the Las Vegas, Nevada native has been rather well-behaved since his suspension, I’m not completely sold that he’ll be able to keep his anger under control if the equipment doesn’t perform quite the way he’d like it to.
Simply put, second chances typically don’t come along all that often in NASCAR, but Kurt Busch has been given multiple shots, including a new one for the 2013 season. You can expect one thing for sure: assuming there really is a new attitude behind the wheel, Furniture Row Racing will make strides against the competition with the 2004 champion behind the wheel. Only time will tell if that’s the only reason he makes headlines next year.
_Author’s Note: Looking for thoughts on what the move means for Regan Smith? Be sure to check out “Kevin’s Corner”:LINK HERE where fellow writer Kevin Rutherford takes a look at the departing driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet and what his future might hold._
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