Pedley: We May Not Have Heard The Last Of Busch
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Those NASCAR fans out there who are, this week, thinking that the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship has seen the last of Kurt Busch, may want to re-think. Busch may soon be back in the championship mix and, quite possibly, as soon as the 2012 season.
Because like it or not, the undeniable driving talent remains in place for the 2004 Cup champion and, the team he is going to work for next season is not as lousy as some may think.
Busch, of course, was shown the door at Penske Racing just after the end of the 2011 season. “Dirty Kurty” had obviously worn out his welcome at a team that has traditionally prided itself in doing things less with flair than with class.
The scene in the garages at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the season-ending race – where Busch obscenely tore into a television reporter who was attempting to secure a national interview – was the final indignity for team-owner Roger Penske and the folks who sponsor the No. 22 Dodge.
And Busch was tossed aside: Oh, that that stuff about him wanting to leave? Please.
A couple weeks later, it was announced that Busch had been hired to drive the No. 51 car of Phoenix Racing – a perennial also-ran outfit owned and operated by background-dweller James Finch.
And the anti-Busch forces smirked.
But is it possible that those forces wasted a large load of perfectly good smirks?
Yes, it is.
Busch is hardly a driver who’s career is careening down hill. In fact, Busch’s talents are hovering within a couple of degrees of peak. He will be just 33 years old when the 2012 season begins. That’s about seven years younger than this year’s champion, Tony Stewart. It’s about four years younger than Jimmie Johnson, who won the previous five championships.
Busch showed this year that the wheelman skill remains strong. He won two races – giving him 24 for the career – and had three poles. He had 19 top-10 finishes and he made the Chase.
The big question surrounding 2012 for him would be his team. Phoenix Racing? It has been the perennial home of has beens and never-would-be drivers.
Last season, it was young Landon Cassill at the wheel. The result was zero top-10 finishes.
But that may not tell the whole story for Phoenix.
In 2011, the car, at times was fast. Fast enough to run among leaders on numerous occasions. Fast enough that it will take to the track for Speedweeks next February without having to worry about qualifying its way into the field of the Daytona 500 – it ended the 2011 season 30th in owner points.
In 2009, the No. 51 Phoenix car won the Cup race at Talladega, showing what could happen with a proper wheelman on the pedals.
Phoenix’s occasional speed was not the result of a fluke. Phoenix is, basically, a satellite team for Hendrick Motorsports. It gets its engines, chassis and technical support from the organization which is non-debatably the best in the sport.
If that sounds familiar to you, it is probably because of the fact that the team which won this year’s championship – Stewart-Haas Racing – also is a Hendrick “client”.
You know Busch will be driving his guts out next year. And, perhaps, the anger management help he is getting will work magic.
Busch’s presence and energy may even shoot a charge through a group of Phoenix team members who, like their new driver, have been the butt end of a whole lot of disrespect over the years.
As much as Busch-haters may not want to believe it, Busch’s driving talents put behind the wheel of a Hendrick car serviced by a respect-hungry team could be formidable.
Probably not formidable enough to be a constant threat to win races or, even, pluck repeated top-fives. But with proper management, Busch and Phoenix could put together a Chase challenge.
And, once in the Chase, who knows?
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments