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Busch’s Final FRR Days Being Filled With Wonder

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 17 2013

Kurt Busch's time at Furniture Row Racing is rapidly ticking away. It's been a fun ride, he says. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Kurt Busch and his enigmatic personality will be running full-bore – from farcical reincarnation of Ricky Bobby to staunch supporter of America’s wounded troops – during his final five starts with Furniture Row Racing.

It’s been NASCAR’s version of a shotgun marriage, one that has re-invented and re-branded driver and team.

“I didn’t set out to raise the (competitive) situation of the Furniture Row team,” said Busch, the former Sprint Cup Series champion whose career was free-falling when he joined the Denver, Colo.-based organization for the final six races of last season. “To take a step back to take two steps forward – that’s been the last two years. To team-up with Furniture Row Racing and take the next step up, it’s been a fun ride.”

To that end, Busch’s typically flat-black No. 78 Chevrolet instead will showcase the colorful Wonder Bread paint scheme this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, site of Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500. The Wonder livery is a takeoff on the No. 26 Chevy that appeared in the 2006 NASCAR-themed movie parody “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Busch drove with the “M e” paint scheme featuring a cougar painted on the hood of his car in the May 2012 Cup race at Talladega, another takeoff on the movie.

Busch will then get down-and-gritty at Texas Motor Speedway during the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR

Kurt Busch is still pushing hard. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

tripleheader weekend Oct. 31-Nov. 3 as host of the second annual Busch Whacked mud run benefitting the Armed Forces Foundation and Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter.

Busch will start Sunday’s event at Talladega – race No. 6 of the 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup – seventh in points, 59 behind leader Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing and with eyes wide-open.

“I think the top-five in the championship have started to separate themselves,” said Busch, referring to a group that includes five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing, four-time champion Jeff Gordon of HMS and younger brother Kyle Busch of JGR. “For some reason I’ve felt like sixth through 20th (in points) have been about the same all season. But the top-five have separated themselves all year long. I see guys like Kenseth and Johnson putting on the heat and my little brother has got to break through this final month. Once you clear Martinsville (Speedway on Oct. 27), you see who’s got a final shot at it.”

Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing – the organization with which Busch won the 2004 Cup championship – is sixth in the standings, one point (2,167-2,166) ahead and Kurt’s immediate target around the high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega layout.

“For us, to come from where we were a year ago and to finish 14th (last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway) and be disappointed about it, it just shows how far we’ve come,” Busch said during a teleconference on behalf of TMS in Fort Worth. “Now, trying to get to sixth in the championship standings is a legitimate goal. At the end of the day, if we can define ourselves as the first (single-car) team that didn’t finish in the top-five, I would say that’s a very successful season. Not giving up on this year, we’re still going to keep pushing hard.

“Ultimately, the goal is to get to Victory Lane and then hopefully there’s just a nice feather in the cap being sixth overall in the championship standings.”

Launched with a two-race Cup schedule in 2005, Furniture Row Racing scored its first pole with Joe Nemechek at Talladega in April 2008. Regan Smith gave the team its first win at the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Busch became the first driver in team history to score three consecutive top-10 finishes during the final three races of 2012.

Busch will move to Stewart-Hass Racing beginning in 2014, where he will partner with three-time Cup champion/team co-owner Tony Stewart; newcomer Harvick, who will replace Ryan Newman, and current rookie Danica Patrick.

This weekend’s Wonder Bread sponsorship is part of the reintroduction of the iconic brand, which had

Kurt Busch has Furniture Row running with the big boys. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

been off the market since the bankruptcy of its former owner late last year. Flowers Foods, a leading producer and marketer of packaged bakery goods in the U.S., acquired the Wonder brand in July 2013.

“This is a Chase race and we’re focused on trying to get a good run in it. It’s their launch to put bread back on the shelves,” Busch said. “We need something to change our luck after our car went airborne at the Talladega spring race.”

Busch was running fifth with six laps remaining in regulation during the Aaron’s 499 in May when his car got clipped in the draft and went airborne en route to a 30th-place finish. “Restrictor-plate races have turned into this pattern that it’s hard to have any type of strength over any other team,” said Busch, who has posted a 10.8 average finish through the first five Chase starts. “It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

“I was hoping to be around 30 (points) out after Charlotte and we didn’t perform well. We just haven’t been as consistent as is needed in the Chase. The runnerup at Kansas and fourth at Chicago were strong finishes. But we didn’t cut it at New Hampshire (13th), Dover (21st) and Charlotte (14th). We need to make a stronger statement in the final five races.”

Busch has made 25 Cup starts at Talladega during an often-times controversial career that includes stints for high-profile/multiple-car team-owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske and the single-car organizations fielded by James Finch and Barney Visser. Busch’s Talladega record includes six top-fives, 13 top-10s and 143 laps-led.

The Busch Whacked mud run will kick-off all Cup activities at the high-banked, 1.5-mile TMS quadoval on Oct. 31 at 6:30 p.m. (CDT). “It’s a fun run – it’s not too long and it’s not too clean, a 5k with military obstacles,” Busch said of an event that will be staged in and around the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track located on the east side of the big speedway. “It’s Halloween, so bring out your costume. Show your athletic skills and get down-and-dirty, like the military.”

Busch has developed a close relationship with the Armed Forces Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to supporting and advocating for active-duty military personnel, National Guardsmen, Reservists, military families and veterans. The AFF returns 95 cents of every dollar raised to service members and their families through its programs. Since 2001, the AFF has provided more than $75 million in assistance by covering travel, hotel rooms, home mortgages, car payments and every-day bills for families so they can stay at their loved ones’ sides during treatment and recovery from wounds suffered during war.

“It’s been an inspiration feeling…a two-way street when you visit the hospitals and VAs around the country,” Busch said. “It’s been tough to see our men and women that have served and the hardships they’re going through now. Some of them are simpler cases; some are tougher where we can’t see the actual wound such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“We see a lot of different cases and the Armed Forces Foundation is there and it’s an effort to pay some bills at home and to help our men and women to get their families and situations under control after they’ve done their service. It’s very inspirational and very motivating. This mud run is more of a fun event. It brings out our troops and they get to have fun with the NASCAR group and put some of their hardships off to the side.”

Joining Busch last year as participants were Johnson, Paul Menard, Sam Hornish Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Additionally, Fox Sports 1’s Matt Clark and Jeff Hammond, Miss Coors Light, Miss Sprint Cup, Fox Sports Girls and wounded service members supported the cause by participating.

“There’s a group that’s given me a verbal commitment,” said Busch, citing interest from drivers in the Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series as well as NASCAR officials. “It’s a matter of getting them to push the ‘click’ button.”

Fans can participate in the mud run for $35. For more information and to register, visit www.getbuschwhacked.com. For updates, follow the Armed Forces Foundation on Twitter @SupportAFF and the hashtag #BuschWhacked.

“A military-inspired mud run at Texas Motor Speedway is a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle and to raise awareness for those suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” said Patricia Driscoll, president of the Armed Forces Foundation. “With more than 600,000 veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and one veteran committing suicide every 65 minutes, we need every citizen to band together and help save our troops.”

Donations can be made to the Armed Forces Foundation at www.armedforcesfoundation.org or by texting “AFF” to 50555 to donate $10 to the AFF. Reply with YES to confirm your donation. Full Terms: mGive.org/T.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 17 2013
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