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
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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

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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.

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 23 3rd Qtr 9:12
Dallas 10
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Nashville
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 64 2nd Half 10:21
Indiana State 41
Cal State Fullerton 21 1st Half 5:41
Wright State 29
Western Ky 12 1st Half 11:40
Saint Josephs 8
Michigan State 8 1st Half 17:38
Rider 0
UCLA 6:00 PM
North Carolina
Marquette 7:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Long Beach State 7:30 PM
Western Mich
Stephen F Austin 8:00 PM
Prairie View
UAB 8:30 PM
Florida
Rice 8:30 PM
Mercer
San Jose St 10:00 PM
Washington
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 6:30 PM
Texas
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Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
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(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 43 1st Half 0:36
BYU-Hawaii 25
Charlotte 26 1st Half 2:02
Montana 26
Illinois 22 1st Half 5:06
(9) Kentucky 29
Central Michigan 7:00 PM
Richmond
Oklahoma 7:15 PM
South Florida
Princeton 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
(19) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Butler
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