Kurt Busch sees bright future for Furniture Row
September 18, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Former Sprint Cup champ lauds Colorado-based team as Chase caliber
As far as driver Kurt Busch is concerned, the allure is sizable and straightforward for his potential replacement at Furniture Row Racing.
"This is a Chase team, everybody in the garage that’s (ranked) 14th on back, if they're not committed to a program they should be clawing over each other trying to get to this team," Busch said Monday, fresh off a top-five finish (fourth) in the Chase to the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener a day earlier.
Through radio, television, teleconference and fan interviews at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday afternoon, Busch sounded every bit as bullish on the future of FRR as he did in January during a preseason media gathering in a Charlotte hotel banquet room. Even back then the 2004 NASCAR champ was glad-handing, back-slapping and speaking with great passion and conviction about how rewarding it would be to race this team into the 2013 Chase for this "underdog" single-car team from the Wild West.
Likewise, FRR's team leaders -- crew chief Todd Berrier and general manager Joe Garone -- exuded a similar kind of confidence and optimism for the season. And Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser coolly predicted his Denver, Colorado-based team’s first Chase berth the way Rick Hendrick can predict he'll visit Victory Lane once or twice.
The scene of great hope and promise was everything you'd expect of any team -- but especially this relatively new team -- before the season's first race lap.
Nine months later we know it wasn't all over-the-top swagger or blind optimism.
Busch has mightily held up his end of the bargain, racing the series' only single-car operation into the Chase. And with a fourth place at Chicago's Chase opener Sunday night, Busch sits sixth in the championship -- a reasonable 23 points behind leader Matt Kenseth -- and more motivated than ever.
Yet, as the team's expectations have been raised and met, it again sits at a crucial crossroad for the 2014 season. With Busch leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, where does the "little" team that could -- and did -- go from here? Who will come in and carry on what Busch has proven possible?
He has some ideas. And named names.
"I think the level of driver that they're looking for would be somebody with experience as well as somebody that has the potential to grow into whom would best fit that role," Busch said Monday. "But we're starting to run out of those experienced drivers, such as Juan Pablo Montoya ... and you're now looking at guys like a David Ragan as a veteran or a Scott Speed.
"One of the dark horses that nobody is really looking at that I think would be a good candidate is a Josh Wise. But the list can go on and on.
"You have (Dave) Blaney's son (Ryan), you have (Ryan) Truex, everybody that wants a Chase ride. This is a Chase car, I'm sure their phone is ringing off the hook, and I'm not mentioning the right names. But I see a young guy fitting in over there that can grow with the team just based off of what I've seen with their negotiations."
A driver announcement from FRR could come at any time. Its vacant driver's seat is the hottest job opening on the circuit. Many people, including Busch, expected FRR to sign Montoya when the ride became available. But Montoya signed to drive for Roger Penske's IndyCar program in 2014.
"I thought Montoya was going to be a good fit, but I don't think they wanted to pay that kind of veteran salary, I think is what it turned out to be," Busch said. "Or, I think it was the opportunity of a lifetime similar to my situation (at Stewart-Haas) that came up for Montoya."
Busch said "one of the sticking points of why I didn't re-sign there was, I asked for a five-year plan, and they didn't quite have a definition for that," Busch said. "So does that mean they want to run strong and give everything they've got for one more year? Or are they looking to bridge to the next two, three years? I don't know.
"But they've asked me good questions about specific drivers, and I know they're taking a good, hard look at everybody.”
Busch said he had a casual, but telling, conversation with FRR owner Barney Visser just last week before the Chicago race. Visser asked Busch if he thought a rookie could finish in the top-five in the championship by his second year as Busch had done.
"He asked me, 'Do think that can be done with a rookie in this day and age?' And I told him the competition between sixth and 20th is so fierce, that I don't think it's the same as it was in the early 2000s," Busch recounted. "… there are so many guys, it's very difficult to crack through, especially with competitive cars. There's such a quantity of cars that can run well.
"So my answer to him was 'no,' but that tells you they're looking at a young guy."
Whoever the driver ends up being, Busch promises he will have resources in place to be successful -- including a renewed technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
And while Busch is currently riding a string of three consecutive top-five finishes, and has 14 top-10 efforts, he is still looking for a win in the season's nine remaining races.
And he thinks the difference between a near-miss and Victory Lane is the lone and obvious challenge in a year that would have been viewed as an overachievement by those that didn't take FRR’s preseason commitment to heart.
"I wish I knew (what the final piece was) because I'd implement it right now and we'd go to New Hampshire with it," Busch said. "I feel like we're a 95 percent team. We have a lot of tools that are strong.
"We go to the racetrack each week with raw speed. Our pit crew has improved, but we're missing that last five percent, and I don't know where it's coming from, and if we had it, I think we could drive into Victory Lane with it next week with it. They're a fantastic team. They have a lot of well-roundedness to them, and there's just a couple small areas that I think that they could improve. But I don't know exactly what to do to pinpoint it."
"We have all the right people, and it was just a matter of having everything fall into place with the performances on track, and we've been able to do that," Busch said. "It's been a very successful season and we're in the Chase and we don't want it to stop there.
"We want it to keep going."