NASCAR fan, could you have imagined we would be where we are today? Just two short seasons ago, it looked like the party was over. Released from Penske Racing- the team that had given Kurt Busch his second chance just five years earlier- the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion appeared destined for a career with start-and-parks or underfunded teams.
Today, Gene Haas is looking crazy like fox, as Busch earns a win for the ’41’ in just their sixth start as a team, at Martinsville of all places in the STP 500. This is Jimmie Johnson’s place. The elder Busch brother hasn’t won at the paper clip-shaped short track since 2002, back when Kurt was driving for Jack Roush. For his career, he has a lackluster average finish of 20.8 in 28 races, making the achievement even more impressive. Busch went toe-to-toe with the six-time champion and eight-time winner at Martinsville taking the lead, giving it back, but getting it back in a classic short-track duel between two champions who are two horses of entirely different colors.
The scouting report on Kurt Busch has always been he may carry around a lot of baggage, but boy, is he ever a wheel man! Busch put that on full display as he overcame the pit road incident with Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski, and raced to the front, fighting for that lead like a dog with a sock. If Busch has learned one thing over his long and winding road, he is not here on only his own merits. “I ran a lot of my early part of my career as an individual, and I didn’t respect my team, my team owners, and to have a team owner like Tony Stewart who’s a driver and an owner, I can communicate things to the mid-level personnel, those are all the things that I knew I struggled with and that I needed to communicate better to the channels of people that are all part of this team. It’s not just me and the crew chief or the pit crew that jumps over the wall. There’s a full channel of everybody, and when you have racers like Greg Zipadelli that are there to help you, Matt Borland was there to assist Daniel in our growth, and a whole group of guys back at that shop that are hopefully not going to tear the lobby down when we party, it’s that camaraderie and it’s that feeling.”
Yours truly pondered once after the parting of Penske and Busch if he would find himself on an island alone. Kurt Busch is not alone. The important lesson he has learned is that he now knows it.
No, please do not construe these words that somehow Kurt Busch has become a NASCAR “Mr. Goodcheer.” The dust up with Brad Keselowski shows Busch can still get hot under the collar with the best of them. That’s fine, there are still people who want to see “The Outlaw.” What’s different now is Busch has seen the highest highs with 25 wins and a title to his credit, and the lowest lows, working with teams that scraped and scrapped week in and week out, without teammates to watch your back. That understanding has served Tony Stewart well, and now Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick are understanding it too.
Kurt Busch? Winning at Martinsville? Goes to show you what can happen when you combine driving talent with a team that puts you in a position to win.