It has been a rocky couple of years for Kurt Busch, a driver who seems to be the very definition of a ‘love him or hate him’. A driver who is not averse to saying what is on his mind, to other drivers, journalists or even his own team. Yet on the other hand is a fantastic driver who won the Championship in his fourth full season and races hard week in week out and clearly still has the desire to win.
One too many indiscretions during his tenure with Penske Racing saw the final straw come when he gave a ‘one fingered salute’ at Homestead to workers blocking his way to the garage followed by a profanity laden rant at ESPN’s Dr Jerry Punch; as a result he was released from his contract by mutual consent. Although many commentators would say that there was nothing mutual about it and that Rodger Penske simply couldn’t tolerate his behaviour any longer. It appeared that his career had imploded and he may even struggle to get a Cup drive in the 2012 season. Kurt Busch wasn’t blind to what he was doing and the effects it would have career wise, so much so that in December 2011 he admitted that he had started seeing a sports psychologist:
I need to be a better person on the radio, to the team, as a leader…It’s personal issues, of course, and working with a sports psychologist, I’ve gotten obviously a small grasp, but there’s obviously bigger things that I need to accomplish and things can’t happen overnight. He told Yahoo Sports
However his call for a drive was answered by Phoenix Racing for whom he would drive in the 2012 season as well as a limited Nationwide schedule with them and his brother’s Kyle Busch Motorsport team. The 51 car wouldn’t win him the Championship but it at least allowed him to have a fresh start and show the racing world that he was still a great driver, which he went about proving by taking five top 10 finishes, including a season best third at Sonoma. But the other side of Kurt was ever-present, and after being put on probation for doing a burnout in front of Ryan Newman’s pit stall he was again suspended by NASCAR after a heated race in the Nationwide series where he was asked how being on probation had affected his racing he replied:
“It refrains me from not beating the **** out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions
While there is no justification for threatening someone it is these kind of outbursts that the fans love. It shows that drivers are passionate, that they want to win at all costs and if they don’t than they take it very personally.
For the 2013 season Busch made the move to Furniture Row Racing and he saw it as his chance to re-establish himself as a genuinely competitive driver. Even though we are only just over a quarter of the way through the season this seems to have been a very good move. As with moving to any new team things can take a while to settle down and so it proved, with the first three races seeing the 78 car finishing in the 20s. But then things started to click and at Bristol he finished fourth followed up by a fifth place at Fontana. Most impressive of all was Busch’s ability to keep his cool at Fontana after being penalised for speeding and his fight to come back from a lap down as a result.
Since then he has remained competitive, nearly taking pole at Texas as well as leading 36 laps at last weekends Richmond race. But a competitive car isn’t enough in NASCAR and luck also needs to be on your side and this is where unfortunately he has suffered, having failures at Martinsville and Texas that took him out of contention and a chance at a win. Getting into a tangle with Stewart at Richmond cost him another shot at a victory. But I am sure that he is taking great heart from how competitive he has been so far, and sees that all his hard work with the team is paying off. Even his ‘other side’ seems to have calmed down. After the incident with Stewart he was asked about it post race but rather than lay blame at Stewart’s door all he wanted to talk about was how good his car was, how impressive the Furniture Row Racing team was and how they were going after the wins.
This surely a great sign for the rest of the season, and with Talledega next up where he’s got 13 top 10 finishes from 24 starts, if he can stay out of the big one than I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 78 rolling into Victory Lane.