By Mike Calinoff – There’s a saying that “cats always land on their feet.” It’s true – they have a built-in righting reflex as a result of a flexible backbone and no functional clavicle. I sound pretty bright, huh? Well, I’m as knowledgeable as anyone else who has the latest and greatest smartphone. Check out the animation.
I’ll get to the point — which is Kurt Busch.
We’ve all heard the profanity-laced in-car audio. We remember all of the banter with other drivers, race officials and NASCAR itself. There was the 2012 Dover episode where reporter Bob Pockrass was threatened. We cringe at the thought of how he spoke to Roger Penske over the radio and we’ll never forget the incident that subsequently took what was once a blue chip stock and diminished it to pennies – the berating of Dr. Jerry Punch in 2011 at Homestead. Roger Penske had exhausted every bit of patience and tolerance that he had with Kurt Busch and fired him. That was it. Done. Game over.
Well, not exactly.
James Finch came along, offered Kurt a ride for 2012 and he took it.
It was a no-brainer for Finch, who’s never really been able to attract the caliber of driver that would help bring his team to the next level. And it was a no-choicer for Kurt, who knew that staring at the phone won’t make it ring. It seemed like the perfect union – for while anyway.
Busch tried to oversell his talents with a team that wasn’t prepared enough to execute. Results were sub-par and the self-proclaimed “fun times” were short-lived.
And his phone remained silent.
When I heard the announcement about Kurt’s one-year deal with Furniture Row Racing. I thought, “Wow, it’s come down to this. What a shame.” At the time, that team was marginal at best. I figured it was his last stop.
Then, I thought about the events leading up to this point and reminded myself that Kurt Busch is a Champion in our sport, having won the 2004 title by inches. It was one of the most dramatic moments we’ve ever seen in a championship race.
Over the following years, Kurt’s behavior had diluted his championship honor for many of us – but the facts are the facts. That Sunday afternoon in 2004 when he escaped disaster and narrowly got onto pit road, inked his name in the record books.
Although winless to date, Busch has had a remarkable season. He sits 9th in the standings with 11 top-tens and 6 top-fives heading to Bristol, arguably one of his best tracks. He’s demonstrated how championship experience along with a level head, can make a difference. He’s added his flavor of driving to an organization that’s had resources, but no one to channel them in the right direction. And he’s also pretty much relegated Regan Smith to the Nationwide Series for the foreseeable future.
Over the weekend we learned that Stewart-Haas Racing has made Busch a formal offer to join their team in a fourth entry. It’s rumored that the team would be self-funded through Haas Automation. And that’s probably based on the fact that Kurt Busch hasn’t quite earned the trust of potential sponsors. That’s the risk verses reward factor.
But, Kurt now has options. How he weighs them and plays them will be interesting.
Going to SHR would be a sweet deal for the driver that many had written off as damaged goods. But there still could be looming unknowns such as on-track history with two of his three teammates. Kurt hasn’t exactly made it easy to like him.
Then there’s the pecking order. Where would he stack up in the stable? My guess is that he’d literally and figuratively be the fourth team. Gene Haas is a smart guy who could easily take a wait-and-see approach with Kurt. After all, the co-owner is paying the bills and the other three cars are funded as a result of the driver relationships with their sponsors. Kurt doesn’t have that luxury and is thus somewhat unprotected. A tirade or two could potentially send him packing.
At Furniture Row, there are endless possibilities.
The single-car team has made amazing strides with Busch at the controls. They are now contenders for the Chase. Would you have ever guessed that?
Now, take what Kurt has accomplished at Furniture Row Racing, add the experience of Todd Berrier and a rejuvenated car owner in Barney Visser – and you’ve really got something to build on.
I think that Kurt Busch would be best served by staying right where’s he’s at. If FRR adds a second or even third car to their fleet at some point, Kurt’s still the main guy and has a better control of his destiny.
At 35-years-old, his career is far from over. Some say the best is yet to come if he can keep his emotions in check and focus on the task at hand. And while one season doesn’t make a career, his chances of success are way above average. He’s still got races and Championships to win.
We’ll see how it all unfolds in the coming weeks, but either way the cat is going to land on his feet.
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