Time is Running Out for Kurt Busch
Photo by Kevin Hasemann / TheRacingExperts.Com
Kurt Busch has only had two races with primary sponsorship this season.
By Dominic Aragon
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
As Hendrick Motorsports celebrated a win with Jeff Gordon in Sunday’s rain shortened Pennsylvania 400, the humble, single car organization of Phoenix Racing loaded up a demolished race car, a sight that has become common for the team this year.
Driver Kurt Busch posted a solid sixth place qualifying effort on Saturday with his blank, bright orange-red 51 car. Although this was the sixth top-15 start for the team in the last eight races, Busch has averaged 29th place since his top-5 finish in Sonoma.
On Sunday, the No. 51 team showed the muscle to be a top-5 car, but yet more problems plagued the team with a wreck on lap 87. Despite leading three laps, Busch did not finish the race for the second consecutive week.
The finishes do not show for the hard work and preparation Phoenix Racing has put into their racecars.
Kurt Busch was fast during Speedweeks and had the possibility of beginning the year with a top-10 dashed with the lap two wreck in the Daytona 500. The 51 also ran inside the top-15 for much of the day at Las Vegas in March, only to have Busch wreck the car on the backstretch. But arguably, the team showed muscle at Talladega running the “ME” scheme made famous by the 2005 move Talladega Nights. Although Busch ran up front, a late race spin crumbled any chance at victory lane.
Kurt Busch becomes a free agent at season’s end and it is likely that he won’t be resigning with Phoenix Racing. But where could he end up signing with for 2013?
Top-tier teams in the Cup Series will be reluctant to sign a driver that has a history of on and off-track run-ins with fellow drivers, owners, and media personnel. Plus, potential sponsors may be driven away, because their brand may not want to be associated with him.
Busch will likely have to sign with a team that is able to run each week regardless of a sponsor on the car. With today’s age of the sponsor, only four teams in the Cup Series are able to do it on a weekly basis.
Phoenix Racing is one of the four, as owner James Finch isn’t afraid to pour his own money into his team. But with the way this season is going, Finch has possibly had to dig deep into his own pocket to repair his damaged, unsponsored racecars this season.
BK Racing promised at the beginning of the year that the two fielded cars would not start and park. The team has kept true to their word, running self-sponsored Burger King racecars with Landon Cassill, Travis Kvapil, and occasionally David Reutimann.
Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins has run three cars since his manufacturer switch to Ford in 2010. Despite owning various Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W franchises, the team has not been able to run competitively outside restrictor plate racetracks.
But the most established team Kurt could land with would be Furniture Row Racing. Owner Barney Visser owns the Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Company and runs the team out of his hometown in Denver, Colorado.
The team is looking to expand to two cars in 2013 with the possibility of switching makes to Dodge. The team has expressed interest in hiring Busch to be teammates with Regan Smith next year. At FRR, Busch wouldn’t have to worry about finding sponsorship, due to the fact Visser would likely be able to foot the bill for his cars.
Since the sport’s top teams are multi-car organizations, Busch may have a shot to be a top-15 driver again next season if Furniture Row signs him on and expands. Busch may have to move to Colorado like Regan Smith did to be close to the shop, but Busch would likely make the move out west to get his stalled career a much needed jumpstart.
But as far as this season goes, Busch has to treat the next 15 races as 15 chances to prove himself to potential owners and potential sponsors. No doubt the talent is already on the table, but he will have to focus on finishing 2012 consistent and bringing the cars home in one piece. This may be the first year since 2001 that Kurt does not post a win, but owners and sponsors can overlook his 2012 stats if Busch continues to be media friendly and easy going.