Busch, Furniture Row Running ‘With The Big Dogs’
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
With the deal to hire Kurt Busch in place, with a proven crew chief already in the fold, and with team confidence at apogee, Furniture Row Racing general Manager Joe Garone could not wait for the 2013 Sprint Cup season to start.
But then came a comment from his boss, and Garone’s mouth went dry.
“Our owner looked at it all and said, ‘I expect to make the Chase,’ ” Garone said.
The owner was Barney Visser and his message was clear: Single-car, Colorado-based, Chase-watcher but never a Chase-player Furniture Row had waved the right to come up with excuses for not making the Sprint Cup playoffs in 2013.
The pressure was on.
Then came last week. When the checkered flag dropped at Richmond to signal the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, Busch, Garone, crew chief Todd Barrier, Visser the rest of his team hand not only secured their Chase berth, but had become one of the more compelling story lines in recent NASCAR history.
Four days later, as he sat at a folding table stained by barbeque sauce and cheesy corn in the infield at Kansas Speedway, Busch said the magnitude of the story line was slowly wrapping its arms around him.
“Now it’s for real,” Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion but also a driver who has been surrounded by bizarre circumstance since he broke into NASCAR by winning team owner Jack Roush’s first ever ‘Gong Show’ audition in 1999, said.
“We’re a bonafide Chase team that’s competing with the big dogs.”
No arguing that. As there is no arguing the stunning nature of the Busch Story and the Furniture Row Story. Though intertwined like garden vines, the stories are also good as stand-alones.
A brief NASCAR timeline for Busch includes: winning the ’04 championship with Roush Racing; an arrest for reckless driving during the 2005 Chase stop in Phoenix; getting very publicly and acrimoniously being dumped by Roush shortly thereafter; being punched in the face by Jimmy Spencer; being given his first “second chance” by arrow-straight team-owner Roger Penske in the famed Blue Deuce; responding to that first “second chance” by pushing teammate Ryan Newman to victory in the 2008 Daytona 500; a vulgar and unsavory public roasting of a television reporter; the decision by Penske to let Busch go in the wake of that viral roasting; Busch getting his second “second chance” by being hired by James Finch of Phoenix Racing, a team which Busch elevated in performance; Busch leaving Phoenix with a half dozen races to go in the 2012 season to join Furniture Row; becoming a constant sight in race-leading packs in Furniture Row’s No. 78 Chevy in 2013; making his way into the Chase this year by refusing to burst apart under the pressure during the final three non-playoff events.
Sprinkled liberally throughout that history were minor incidents of misconduct. So many that virtually all comments about Busch over the years began with phrases that went something like: If Kurt Busch ever would gain control of himself, he could go down as one of Cup’s very best drivers.
Now, the 2013 edition of the Busch Show seems to have erased the phrase-opening “if”.
Concurrently, the 2013 edition of the story of Furniture Row Racing – which was born and continues to live in a blue-collar warehouse east of downtown Denver near the site of long-abandoned Stapleton Airport in 2005, and which didn’t go full-time racing in Cup until 2010 – has also erased some “ifs” which surround one-car operations.
During a telephone conversation with RacinToday.com on Friday morning, Garone talked about his driver and his team’s year to remember.
It started, he said, the year before.
“We were looking at becoming a two-car team and I had made contact with (Busch) early-on last year to see if he would be interested in being a part of that,” Garone said. “That’s what built a little bit of a relationship. Then later in the year, our owner was looking at the performance of the car and the fact that Kurt was going to become available and then we started talking to him about it.”
The talk between Garone, Visser and others who work at the Denver warehouse, included the lowlights of the Busch story. They had to.
“We had a lot of discussions about that, where Kurt was at in his career,” Garone said. “And we thought we would be a really good place for him because we were building really good cars and had a really good team and we could give him 100 percent of our focus.”
So, Garone has asked; has Busch finally reached the level of maturity that his critics have demanded?
“He’s flourished our environment,” Garone said.
Busch has become quite experienced in analyzing opportunities. He says he saw beyond the one-car stigma as he dealt with Garone.
On Wednesday, he talked about his first visit to his future home.
“It’s really deceiving,” Busch said. “You walk into that old warehouse, which is what it is. The floor in this cafeteria (at Kansas Speedway) is shinier. But putting on all the bells and whistles and smoke screens – teams can do that and they do that a lot in North Carolina shops, South Carolina shops – but this place out there, you go to the bolt bin. That’s where I tell people to go. You go to the bolt bin or you go to the parts room. And the bolt bin’s got everything brand new. They’re all aircraft bolts, they’re lightweight titanium pieces and you go into the parts room and you have brand new radiators that are cutting edge technology. There is more money spent in their radiators than at RCR (Richard Childress Racing, a tech partner with FRR) spends for all three of their teams.”
While the physical accoutrement to make Furniture Row competitive is so obviously in place, the are also less tangible assets at the warehouse, Busch says.
“There are things that this small team can do to navigate quicker on when you make a change,” he said, “because it’s only on one car. RCR has to get everything certified for three. Sometimes a parts supplier can’t get you things in quantities. So we can navigate quicker through some of the changes.”
So, Busch was asked, exactly what good things do the bigger teams have that FRR does not?
“There’s more people to filter through more information,” he said. “But what I like about our guys, its says they’re supposed to show up at 6 a.m. and leave at 3 – we keep an East Coast time schedule just to keep things easier on the phone when they’re operating with some of our suppliers out East. Our guys are up at 5:15 and they’ll stay ’til 6. That’s working ’til 8 East Coast time.
“With a smaller group working those long, committed hours you’re not looking for the clock to strike 3 every day and leave. I saw that at some of the big teams I was at. It was like a freeway at 5 o-clock everyday. You’d get run over if you were in the wrong crosswalk. This team, everybody’s there putting in their hours because there’s nobody behind them that’s going to get it on the next shift or the next day.”
But make no mistake, Furniture Row is not completely disconnected from the big-time environment of the Carolinas.
As far as equipment and data, they have a close relationship with RCR.
Though Garone disputes claims that FRR is a satellite team or a fourth team to the Childress three-car operation, he does say the relationship is close and is certainly beneficial – to both teams.
“We are our own car and our own team, but when it comes to sharing information, you can think of it as being a teammate. We have an open-book policy that we adhere to and we work on projects together. There’s a lot of trust there.”
Busch nixes the suggestion that getting to the Chase in 2013 ranks No. 1 on his list of personal accomplishments. To do that, he said, would be to disrespect the folks who founded and grew and improved Furniture Row.
“The team deserves a lot of credit,” he said. “Barney Visser has made a big investment to build this team up over the years and I think I matched up with them at a perfect time.”
That time is nearing an end. Busch announced several weeks ago that he would move to the bigger Stewart-Haas Racing group next season: The pull to get back to having teammates like Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick proved too much to resist.
Which begs the question: What will happen to FRR post-Busch?
Garone insists: good things.
“It’s not a challenge to overcome, it’s just a different direction,” he said of Busch’s impending departure. “I believe in our race team and whoever we put in our seat, who right now, I really don’t know, but whoever we get, I believe this race team will be able to get the best that that driver has out of him, to get the best out of him that that guys has got.”
At Furniture Row, it is not just Visser who now expects to win.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments