NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beth’s Brief: Kurt Busch Settling in With Furniture Row

As the 2012 season quickly winds to a close, all eyes are on Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski as everyone else has been pretty much counted out of the championship battle. Many Cup teams are already turning their attention to 2013, the new car and the promise that always lies ahead. But there has been a non-Chaser who has made a significant amount of progression in what has been a less than stellar season–Kurt Busch.

Just four races ago, Busch moved into his 2013 ride early to finish out the rest of this season behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. And the 34-year-old entered with optimism and a renewed pep in his step, much like he did after joining Phoenix Racing to begin the year.

“This weekend begins a new chapter in my racing career and also a new chapter for Furniture Row Racing,” Busch said before his debut with the team at Charlotte last month. “The excitement level about driving the No. 78 Furniture Row / Farm American Chevrolet is at a high pitch and I can’t wait to get started. This is a team that is committed and it’s also a team with plenty of potential. The guys are ready, I’m ready and we all look forward to having a positive debut.”

So let’s take a look at Busch’s results since then: 21st, 25th, 15th and 8th.

But do those numbers really tell the whole story? Not exactly.

Let’s look back at Charlotte first. No one really expected the older Busch brother and his new team to gel right from the start. It’s simple really: chemistry between a team and driver takes time. But after qualifying 21st, the driver of the No. 78 charged up to nearly the top 10 before handling problems put him a lap down. Without the lucky dog, he was left to settle for a 21st-place finish.

Move forward to Kansas where Busch became the innocent victim in a tangle between Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch while he was running ninth. The contact caused significant damage to the right front that likely resulted in the late-race blown tire while running 12th. He was credited with a 25th-place finish, two laps down. Much of the same can be said about Martinsville where he was running sixth when contact from Kevin Harvick sent him spinning, but he still managed to pull out a respectable 15th-place result. And that’s not bad at a place like Martinsville where a spin like the one Busch suffered typically results in a torn up race car.

And that brings us to Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. After starting in the mid-teens, that’s where he ran for much of the day before crew chief Todd Berrier finally hit on an adjustment–one of many actually–that finally brought the car to life. Suddenly Busch had gotten into the top 10 and that’s where he ended up staying. Luck had gone his way and he finally had the statistics to show for it.

“All in all a good day for Furniture Row Racing. Considering we had a top 5 or top 10 car at the last two races but got nailed in accidents, it was important to come away with a solid finish [Sunday],” Busch said. “We’ve made a lot of progress as a team in a short period of time, which gives us plenty of optimism for 2013. However, we still have some handling issues to work out, but we’re getting there. I am really proud of how we came back today after struggling for a good portion of the race.”

And he has every reason to be proud of their progress. Let’s look back at when he first joined Penske Racing in 2006. In those first four races behind the wheel of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, Busch posted finishes of 38th, 16th, 16th and 37th (26.75 avg. finish). The numbers were much of the same in his first four events with Phoenix Racing earlier this year: 39th, 15th, 25th and 18th (26.75 avg. finish). And his average finish so far with FRR? 17.25.

Clearly, Busch has found success more quickly with Furniture Row than he did with Penske or Phoenix Racing. Obviously there are other factors to consider when looking at the overall picture–equipment, budget, pit crew and crew chief experience–but you get the idea. Whether it’s the equipment or his attitude or a little of both, Busch has every right to have high hopes for next year.

While there is still plenty of room to grow, Busch and the No. 78 team are headed the right direction. And with a solid crew chief like Berrier, who served as crew chief for Kevin Harvick during his five win season in 2006, there’s reason for Busch to remain hopeful for next year. With 17 years of experience atop the pit box, Berrier will likely lead the No. 78 team to victory lane next year–and it could be the first multiple win season for FRR if he and Busch can come out at Daytona rested and ready to continue the progress they’ve made in such a short time this year.

I’m not here to say FRR will come out in 2013 and become a championship contender. In fact, I’m not even willing to guarantee they’ll make the Chase next year … yet. But what I am saying is that there is definitely a solid chemistry building between Busch and an organization that just might be the home he has been looking for since leaving Roush Fenway Racing years ago.

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