Couch Him If you Can: Kurt Busch primed for championship run in the Chase with Furniture Row

  • Article by: DAN GELSTON , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: July 13, 2013 - 6:57 PM
hide

Kurt Busch smiles after posting a track record 27.032 second, 181.918 mph lap during qualifying for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway earlier this season.

Photo: C. Michael Bergen, Mct - Mct

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

LOUDON, N.H. — Kurt Busch has lost rides with top teams. He's paid the price for losing his cool more times than anyone in NASCAR can count.

Busch, though, has never lost his ability to drive.

He's kept his composure, kept that superior skill behind the wheel and kept pace this season with the best in the Cup series.

Yes, Jimmie Johnson is again the driver to beat.

Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are primed to be in the thick of championships contention.

But look who's lurking not too far behind. Just the 2004 Cup champion who's found a home at Furniture Row Racing and found a regular spot running up front to put NASCAR on notice that he can still be as good as it gets in a stock car.

Busch is ninth in the points standings entering Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He'll start second in the No. 78 Chevrolet at a track where he has three career victories — and he has win No. 1 of this season in sight.

Busch has reeled off three straight top-six finishes and has five top 10s in his last seven races to storm into contention and up the standings.

"For us to be in the Chase is a huge accomplishment for a single-car organization," Busch said. "For me, it's great to be back in the Chase and the fraternity of guys I'm accustomed to hanging out with over the years."

With 24 career Cup wins, Busch had long proven himself as one of the top drivers in the sport. But he's had more teams (2) than wins (0) the last two seasons and hasn't pulled into Victory Lane since winning the fall 2011 race at Dover.

He has plenty of time to take the checkered flag this season — not that he necessarily needs a win to make the Chase. With eight races left until the 12-driver field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Busch just needs to keep the steady top 10s coming to stick around.

"You don't have to win, but you have to stay away from those bad finishes," Busch said. "If you do just nice, consistent runs, then you control your own destiny going to Richmond."

Busch knows how easy it is to lose control. He blew rides at multicar teams owned by Jack Roush and Roger Penske because of a lengthy list of confrontations and bad behavior. Out of elite ride options, he hitched a ride last year with James Finch's underfunded racing team before making a late-season switch to Furniture Row.

He finished 28th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and sprinkled two top-fives in with five finishes of 20th or worse over the first seven races. He was doing well in April at Martinsville until a bad fuel pump and then a brake issue caused his race to end in a fiery crash. The car that had been seventh was dumped to 37th place.

Busch and crew chief Todd Berrier have found the right combination over the last month. Busch has gone from 20th to 17th to 14th to ninth in the standings and suddenly looks like the driver who was always a threat to win at any track.

"Kurt was always hands down to me the guy that I looked to and said, 'Wow, how did he do that? How did he go that fast? How did he make that happen?'" former teammate Brad Keselowski said. "I always walked away and said that guy was talented."

While his behavior will always be scrutinized, his outbursts at the media and dustups with other drivers that once landed him on probation have fallen by the wayside this season.

No one's really waiting for that next high-profile incident — just the next win.

"We can't force it," Busch said. "I keep saying it and then I go out there and I try a little bit harder and drive that 101 percent and it steps over the line."

Busch's Furniture Row team has been bolstered by a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. He's a free agent again at the end of the season and could be in the mix to take Harvick's spot at RCR in 2014. Busch stayed at Berrier's house in Colorado in the offseason and bonded with the pit crew in North Carolina, calling those visits the "best way" to build a team. But if another top organization like RCR makes a pitch, Busch will listen.

"There are a lot of irons in the fire," he said. "It's good to run well. Being in the top 10 in points is an accomplishment. Now we've just got to close the door behind us and make sure we are part of the group that is in it."

And if they do make the Chase?

"If I accomplish something and check that off the box, what's next," he asked.

It could mean Busch will be back with a deep-pocketed team where the big boys play.

But take a look at the standings and it's like he never left.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close