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Furniture Row On A Rocky Mountain High

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 8 2013

Kurt Busch and his Furniture Row have gone from small to huge. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

RICHMOND, Va. – If you thought Cinderella stories no longer existed in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, that only multi-car teams could succeed, think again.

This year a Colorado-based, single-car team with a former champion focused on rebuilding his career fought their way into the Chase. The glass slipper isn’t theirs yet, but with Kurt Busch’s second-place performance in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway they received their invitation to the ball.

Furniture Row Racing’s entrance into the championship battle with Busch as its driver is probably the biggest surprise since Alan Kulwicki defeated Junior Johnson’s powerhouse operation for the 1992 title. After all, those missing from the championship battle include four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and defending titlist Brad Keselowski. Also absent are Denny Hamlin and three-time champion Tony Stewart, both victims of debilitating injuries this year.

“We achieved something very special tonight,” Busch said after making the Chase and being informed he was the 10th seed. “(Team owner) Barney Visser and his dream of a NASCAR Sprint Cup team, to be a competitive team, he deserves all the credit. Joe Garone, the general manager, all the people that he’s aligned to help build this team. Then there’s guys like Todd Berrier that are veterans of the garage that make big differences in small places like this. Everybody at the Furniture Row shop back in Colorado, it was a dream, now it’s a reality.”

For Furniture Row and Visser, the Sprint Cup journey began eight years ago with driver Kenny Wallace and a 34th-place finish at Dover. The team didn’t run a full season until 2010. That was the same year

Kurt Busch took care of business at Richmond on Saturday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

the organization lost its transporter and motor home in a massive pileup on I-25 near Larkspur, Colo., about 40 miles south of Denver.

The tractor was totaled and the trailer unusable. In addition to the motor coach, a pickup truck in tow and a golf cart also were destroyed. That’s when Richard Childress Racing came to the rescue and provided the Colorado team with a transporter loaded with equipment so it could compete in the season finale at Homestead. That started an alliance that continues today. RCR provides the team with its engines and its chassis, getting them to Colorado in a trailer that’s divided in half so it can haul furniture and race equipment simultaneously.

Meanwhile, Busch was on his own journey. Two years ago he found himself released by Penske Racing after a tirade against ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch in the Homestead garage was caught on camera and placed on You Tube. That same year Busch had yelled at a reporter after making the Chase in Richmond and ripped up pit notes in the media center. Busch now had to rebuild his career and prove to team owners his race car driving talent made him a valuable asset.

Busch began 2012 with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing – a small, underfunded team that saw Busch

Joe Garone and Furniture Row have reached the Chase. (Photo courtesy of Front Row Racing)

spending a large amount of time in the shop working on the race cars with the crew. By October, Visser had decided he wanted Busch as his driver. He released Regan Smith and hired Busch so they could get a jump on the 2013 season.

By the time NASCAR’s 2013 26-race, regular season concluded at Richmond Busch was still missing a victory, but he had corralled a career high eight front-row starting positions, eight top 5s, 13 top 10s and experienced only two DNFs.

Visser said he didn’t know if making the Chase was a dream come true as “much as I’m kind of in awe of Kurt and Joe (Garone), the whole team, what these guys have been able to do.”

Busch noted the shop personnel arrive at 5 a.m. daily and due to their logistical situation must stay about 10 days ahead with their work. The team’s dedication is something Busch appreciates and at age 35, the 2004 series champion no longer takes the good times for granted.

“I took some of the performance levels of Roush Racing for granted, then expected the same thing at Penske,” Busch explained. “It was a tougher road there, but we made the Chase in a fashion to where it was supposed to be a given. When you didn’t make it, it was a devastating feeling. Now, to be back after missing it last year, the work that it takes, the commitment, the things that you just can’t expect to happen, not necessarily with the odds stacked against you, but you have to dig in deep and you have to find something from within. Barney has been a great shepherd for me and this whole team.

“It’s something special we achieved tonight, to put a single car into the Chase. We have a great 10 weeks ahead of us. We just have to do the same thing we did tonight: keep plugging away, let everybody else worry about what has to happen and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing out in Colorado because nobody can look over our shoulder.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 8 2013