Ride: No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Crew chief: Daniel Knost (33 races); Tony Gibson (three races)
Points finish: 12th
Stats: 36 starts, one wins, six top 5s, 11 top 10s, zero poles, 22 laps led, six DNFs, 13.5 average start, 18.9 average finish
Best finish: first, once (Martinsville Speedway, March)
High Point: You have to look all the way back to March to find the best moment in Kurt Busch‘s 2014 season. Having gone winless since being released from Team Penske at the end of the 2011 season, Busch started 22nd at Martinsville in March and went on to edge Jimmie Johnson, denying the six-time champion a record ninth victory at the paperclip. But the win didn’t come easy for Busch. After a run-in with Brad Keselowski on pit road under a lap 40 competition caution, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford targeted Busch, even slowing in front of him on the track and causing more contact between the pair. Both drivers had harsh words for each other, but in the end, the contact didn’t amount to enough damage to end Busch’s trip to Victory Lane.
Low Point: The first 12 races of Busch’s season were definitely his kryptonite. Save for a third-place finish at Fontana and the win at Martinsville to follow it up, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet finished outside the top 20 in each of those first 12 events. Five of Busch’s six DNFs for the entire season came in the first third of the season and left him in a big hole in the points. With an average finish of just better than 27th to start the year, Busch would not have made the Chase if NASCAR hadn’t changed the rules this season.
Summary: In a season that featured six DNFs, four of which came at the hands of a crash, it’s not that hard to find a low point for the No. 41 team. In fact, there were plenty of races when Busch seemed a step below the rest of the field when it came to speed. He failed to finish on the lead lap in 13 events, a number that’s pretty high for someone who was a championship contender. That said, a crew chief swap with teammate Danica Patrick put Tony Gibson atop the pit box for the last three races of the year, something that seemed to breathe new life in the No. 41 team with finishes of eighth, seventh and 11th at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, respectively.
2015 Outlook: Barring any changes related to the domestic violence accusations from ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, Busch will return to the No. 41 Chevrolet next season. Having finished no worse than 11th in the three races he was paired with Tony Gibson, it’s likely Busch will easily best his numbers from the 2014 season.