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Dirty Kurty Cleaned Up His Act During Terrific 2013

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 25 2013

Kurt Busch's time at Furniture Row Racing was a blast to watch. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Colleague/boss Jim Pedley, founder and managing editor of RacinToday.com, emailed me on the morning after the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards telecast to note that he just cannot bear to watch the program anymore.

“Like fingernails on blackboard watching these guys try to be funny,” Jim said. And I bet that if you asked each of the top-10 Cup drivers obligated to address his peers and the movers-and-shakers of the stock car industry at the Wynn Las Vegas they’d admit it’s an awkward night out. That list likely would include Jimmie Johnson, even in his updated role as six-time/reigning Cup champion and Face of NASCAR.

You likely know how this awards drill works. Starting with the 10th place point-finisher in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, each nattily attired driver sits through a highlight reel of his accomplishments/controversial moments before heading to the dais to offer light-hearted homage to Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and team-owner Rick Hendrick.

That’s typically followed by a plug to each driver’s sponsors, a ‘thank you ‘ to his crew chief and pit crew and a shout-out to his wife/fiancee/squeeze du jour.

Can’t argue with any of that, Jim. But I’ve got to confess that I watched the program that originally aired on Fox Sports 1 on Dec. 6 not once but twice. The reason for that act of double jeopardy? First time through I heard a driver – 10th-place finisher Kurt Busch – deliver a message that prompted me to stop my nightly email purging. Busch’s remarks made me wish I had recorded them…which I did when the program was replayed a couple of hours later.

Recall that Busch concluded his two-year run with Furniture Row Racing in the season-

Kurt Busch pulled himself and his career back together in 2013. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month. But before moving up the NASCAR food chain to Stewart-Hass Racing beginning with the 2014 season, Busch felt compelled to address his tenure with the single-car organization owned by Barney Visser and located in Denver, Colo. – not North Carolina – an outpost far removed from the sport’s epicenter in Charlotte.

Allow me to add that like any number of reporters who have covered Busch’s NASCAR career from its outset, it has not always been easy to like or respect the guy, despite his 2004 Cup championship. I was at Phoenix International Raceway during the very weird November weekend in 2005 when Busch tossed his career with Roush Fenway Racing into the gutter after an arrogant run-in with local law enforcement officials over a traffic infraction.

This is the same Busch who jettisoned his career with Penske Racing in 2011 after a profanity-laced incident with mild-mannered veteran reporter Jerry Punch of ESPN and flipping-off a NASCAR official at HMS.

Fast forward to nondescript Phoenix Racing in 2012, when NASCAR placed Busch on probation for an altercation with one of Ryan Newman’s crew at Darlington Raceway. Asked later by respected reporter Bob Pockrass how said probation might affect his racing, Busch famously responded: “It refrains me from beating the shit out of you…because you ask me stupid questions.”

Given that checkered resume, Furniture Row widely was viewed as Busch’s last/best chance to either save himself from himself…or just continue to fade away. Fortunately for Busch, he chose the former path and soon will race as partner to team co-owner/three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, outspoken newcomer Kevin Harvick and marketing phenom Danica Patrick.

It appears that Kurt Busch, winner of 24 Cup races, really has re-invented himself. His departing remarks as driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet SS are offered as proof:

“For us at Furniture Row it’s been an amazing season. Quick story on how things came together. Twenty years ago I sat with my father at a year-end awards banquet here in Vegas for our local short track. And there was an award given for Most Improved. And my dad chuckled and said, ‘Getting the Most Improved Award means you did something wrong the year before.’ I agreed and said, ‘You need to produce results every year to not get that award.’

“Having success right away with big, multi-car teams will spoil you. Being part of a single-car team from Denver, Colo., helped me realize the true definition of Most Improved. It was a daunting challenge to go up against the best-of-the-best in a situation where the odds were stacked against you. And Most Improved wasn’t counted in our winning trips to Victory Lane _ it was finding victory without winning. This season has truly been rewarding. One of the most memorable moments was when Mr. H (Hendrick) stopped Barney on pit road and shook his hand. I saw the exchange and I was inspired to drive for more.

“People are truly what make this sport a sport. It’s the relationships you share and enjoy and Barney Visser taught me more about life than he did about driving the car. He took me in under his wing, took a chance on advancing his program but all along he was focused on me. For that I’m very thankful. Thank you Barney.

“So, coming from 25th in points the year before to 10th in points and a Chase contender this year, it wasn’t done by one person or one moment. It was a collective effort all year long by this team. The logistical challenge of operating out of Colorado comes with its difficulties, but led by general manager Joe Garrone we stayed ahead of the game. The hardest working crew chief in the business is Todd Berrier. Todd Berrier led this group with the strong hand of experience. His ability to get the best out of everybody and make them improve, that was the key to our successful season.

“Our alliance with Richard Childress Racing was another ingredient. By year’s end we were able to boast about more top-five finishes, more top-10 finishes and more laps-led than the previous seven years combined. Sitting on the front row 10 times this season doesn’t come with an award, but it shows how competitive we were every week.

“Those types of stats compare to the Big Dogs or our sport, and Furniture Row Racing is just that. They are a Chase-caliber team, and I am sad but at the same time happy to leave them in a better place and I wish them continued success. Thank you Furniture Row Racing and employees and the 300 stores nationwide.

“To (NASCAR officials) Mike Helton, John Darby and Robin Pemberton…thank you for your weekly guidance. I feel like I’m in a better place and I am better-prepared to enter the next chapter of my life.

“Thanks to my mom and dad and Kyle and grandma for pushing me along. I’m anticipating my start at Stewart-Haas Racing and the Haas Automation Chevrolet. Thank you Gene Haas and Tony Stewart for believing in me, and 2014 is right around the corner and I’m ready to go.”

It’s easy to like this Kurt Busch, who has found victory without winning…but surely will win again.

And on this Christmas Day, 2013, God bless us every one.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 25 2013
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • william floyd says:

    Kurt can wheel a car, nobody can dispute that. Also it can’t be disputed that some in the media do ask really stupid questions as soon as the drivers exit a long race, like Mr Punch. Kurt is being replaced by Martin Truex, who has exactly two wins total in his whole long cup career, despite being put in fast cars. Barney was very smart in grabbing a true racer like Kurt, but for sure has not spent his money wisely for the next season as the media and everyone else are going to find out when hardly a word will be said about furniture row with Truex not able to come close to getting the results Kurt did. Gene Hass will be shown to be the smartest of them all as Kurt in Hendrick cars will shine the most on that team. The Busch brothers will both be in the media big time in 2014, unlike the Lebonte brothers who are ending their careers like both Petty & Waltrip.

  • Steven says:

    I have to wonder, after a difficult day on the track is Doctor Punch some kind of sacred cow? And you referred to the “respected” Bob Pockrass”. Isn’t he Danica’s unpaid publicist?

    • John Sturbin says:

      Dr. Jerry Punch is not a “sacred cow,” just a NASCAR-credentialed broadcast reporter who deserves to be treated with professional courtesy, not cursed live on national TV. Unlike many of the hot-heads he is assigned to interview for the viewing audience out there in the name of breaking news, Dr. Punch truly is mild-mannered.
      As one of the few fulltime journalists still covering NASCAR, Bob Pockrass is every bit respected. He works all three touring series weekend-to-weekend and in-between, an assignment that includes dealing with Danica Patrick and all her baggage.
      At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Danica’s paid PR rep was Joe Crowley.