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Busch Brothers Have New Owner, Driver At TMS

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 13 2012

Kurt Busch will be working for a new Nationwide Series boss this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – In what might prove to be a landmark case study in sibling anger management, NASCAR’s Busch Brothers are collaborating as owner/driver for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch will make his series debut for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, with little bro’ Kyle calling race strategy from atop the pit box.

And won’t that make for an intriguing night on the scanner?

“We’ll see how he reacts when it’s bigger brother that he’s talking to,” Kurt Busch mused during a chat with local media Thursday afternoon. “But all kidding aside, we have our agenda set forth and the respect we have for one another. And there’ll be times this year when that is tested. Hopefully on the first weekend it’s not, and we’ll have good things happen to us with a solid finish.”

Tonight’s race will be the first of an estimated 17 Nationwide starts Kurt plans to drive for Kyle’s fledgling KBM organization, which launched its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series program with two Toyota Tundras in 2010.

“What I’m really excited about this weekend is for Kyle to sit on the pit box,” said Kurt, who at 33 is seven

Kyle Busch is the owner of the No. 54 Nationwide Series car. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

years older than Kyle. “For him to put on the headset as an owner and to watch his car go around the racetrack and to know he’s got the best driver that he could possibly find out there driving for him – that’s all that I’m going to give him – the best that I’ve got. So it’ll be neat for him to really settle into this ownership role this weekend.”

The winningest driver in Nationwide history with 51 victories, Kyle has driven the No. 54 with admittedly disappointing results in the season’s first five races. Kyle’s best start has been eighth on the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway oval; his best finish was eighth on the 1.5-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. KBM stands 14th on the owner’s points table.

“Hopefully I’ve been able to go out there and work all of the bugs out for him during the first five races,” Kyle deadpanned. “We gained a lot on our cars at California, but we’ve had some struggles on pit road and other things happening. We are much further along with our Nationwide program than where we started the year. Hoping we can start having some success with Kurt in the car this weekend and have a solid finish and keep building our program to where we want it to be.”

Along those lines, Kurt was fifth-fastest in Friday’s final practice with a hot lap at 179.862 mph. “It’s something we’re trying to hit a home run here this weekend, with how much he’s bitten off and how much he’s chewing on as an owner,” said Kurt, commenting on Kyle’s business acumen. “And just the responsibility that comes along with it. To move up into the Nationwide Series – I guess you could say it’s three times more difficult than the Truck Series. And then from the Nationwide, it’s three times more difficult in the Cup Series.

“So as an owner you have to find the sponsorship, you have to find the right personnel, you have to be on the cutting edge as far as what it takes to build a competitive car. He’s trying to manage all of that as well as continue with Joe Gibbs (Racing) and making sure that No. 18 car is running at its top performance level in the Cup Series.

“We’ve seen guys like (Kevin) Harvick own a (Truck Series) team and work his way through the system and just recently close his doors due to the struggles. Guy like Rusty Wallace just closed their (Nationwide) doors down. It shows the difficult climate we’re in. When you’re going up against Gibbs and RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Roush (Fenway) Racing…you have to weather that beginning of the storm. Once you get four-five years in then it seems like you can get settled.”

Kurt said the brothers, who grew up in Las Vegas, rarely raced head-to-head while rising through the

Kyle Busch, team owner. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

various grassroots ranks.

“There wasn’t much (competition) early because I was so much older and he couldn’t hang, more-or-less, with what I was doing,” Kurt said, “whether it was Little League Baseball or starting out in Legends Cars, even up into Late Models. But as he came into his own and got in over at Hendrick Motorsports in the Nationwide Series – he’s a Nationwide champion (2009) and he’s won the most races in the series. So he’s got that over me.

“And yet since he’s really established himself on the Cup Series, we’ve been going back-and-forth collecting stats or wins that are more significant than others. It’s neat to work together on a racing project such as this and have Monster on-board as the main sponsor. This is a company out of Southern California that’s hip and edgy and aggressive and seems to fit right in with Kyle and my style of racing.”

Certainly, both brothers bring attitude – and baggage – to whatever they drive. Kurt was viewed as a wunderkind when he won the Cup championship for Roush Fenway Racing in 2004, first year of the 10-race Chase format. But by the end of the 2005 season Kurt’s relationship with team-owner and Ford Racing loyalist Jack Roush already was deteriorating when an off-track traffic incident near Phoenix International Raceway led to his suspension for the season’s final two races.

Exiting Roush Fenway Racing with 14 Cup victories, Busch landed on his feet with Roger Penske’s equally high-profile organization beginning in 2006. He scored at least one victory in each of the next six seasons for a total of 10, but burned bridges by openly criticizing the competitiveness of the team’s Dodge program. Meanwhile, an obscene outburst directed at ESPN reporter Jerry Punch last fall triggered what was described as a “mutual decision” to part company with Penske at season’s end.

Kurt is in his first season with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, a single-car team with one Cup victory since 1990 and minus the bells-and-whistles to which he has become accustomed.

“This has been a year of new challenges, and fun ones at the same time,” Kurt said. “These (Phoenix Racing) guys are a bunch of Boy Scouts. They’re all together, all pulling the rope in the same direction. And so there hasn’t been any conflict at all. Everybody’s just so excited to go to a track each week knowing last year they were running for 30th and this year we’ve got a shot at a top-10.”

Kurt’s best finish in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet Impala has been ninth at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The only two laps he’s led this season were at the 1-mile PIR in Race

Kurt Busch is doing double duty at TMS this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

No. 2. Kurt enters Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500 Cup race 26th in points after a miserable outing on April 1 at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, where he qualified 40th and finished 33rd.

“Racing with James Finch, he’s more old-school,” Kurt said. “He has a certain budget that he’s got set forth and we’re out there clawing and scraping to try to get those top-10 finishes. It’s been unique working with just the one engineer on the team and he can quickly get information back to the body-hanger or the chassis design guy. Whereas with big teams, it takes a lot of emails. It’s a big system and it can sometimes get cloudy.

“With this program, it’s straightforward. It’s what we have. We get cars, motors and some body support from Hendrick Motorsports but yet it’s still what you do with the people you have. And being a team that only has 18 employees, we’ve got to get the best out of every guy. And that’s when you really appreciate the hard work that everybody is doing. It seems like each guy has three jobs on the team. I mean, the general manager (Steve Barkdoll), he’s also the spotter up on top of the tower. He had to have a plane ticket to get here, so we’re going to put him to work while he’s here as well.”

Kyle Busch, meanwhile, generated national headlines here in November, when he admitted to purposely wrecking four-time Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. during the early laps of the WinStar World Casino 350. NASCAR parked Kyle the next morning for the weekend, while team-owner Joe Gibbs was forced into a full-court press of damage control with his sponsors and the sanctioning body. A JGR public relations contact said the incident remains sensitive, prompting Kyle’s low media profile.

In comparison to Finch’s operation, KBM employs approximately 100 people to handle Kyle’s Truck and Nationwide series efforts. “I respect him for the guts that he has to jump into this endeavor, to be the owner,” Kurt said. “For me, he calls me the other day after our first big test session (at Nashville Superspeedway) and wanted to know as a driver what I thought. He also wanted to know what I thought of the team with my experience level and that’s something an owner has never asked me before.

“With Kyle’s program, you want to call it ‘old-school racing,’ because it’s family. But he’s going full-tilt with his investment, with crew guys, with making sure there’s no stone unturned. We’re hoping to crack into our first top-five of the year. We didn’t think it’d be like this. We had some big expectations but this is like any new team – you have to go through the growing pains even when you’re the winningest driver in the Nationwide Series. As an owner you got to work through some of the bugs.”

Despite the fact that Kyle is a five-time Nationwide winner at TMS, Kurt said he campaigned to make his debut for KBM here for sentimental reasons. Kurt’s first Nationwide start in the spring of 2006 produced a victory on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. “This may sound strange, but there is this kind of unique homecoming,” said Kurt, who has three Nationwide wins in 13 career starts. “It was pretty cool to make that first start and win it.

“This is just a genuine sense of pride for the two of us, but primarily for Kyle. This is his program, this is his neck on the line, so to speak. He’s got that strong will to succeed at this ownership level and I’m here to help out.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 13 2012
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