Kurt Busch looks to keep momentum going
June 15, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
Fast all weekend in practice and qualifying, No. 78 team is ready to roar
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- It’s only a matter of time.
Kurt Busch's No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet SS has been too fast, too often (and yes, even sometimes -- too furious) to not break through soon for his first win of 2013. The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion has routinely been at the top or near it in practice and qualifying sessions week in and week out but for various in-race reasons, has yet to reach Victory Lane.
After linking up with the Denver, Colo.-based team for the final six races last season -- the final three of which were all top-10 finishes -- the learning curve that comes along with racing for a new team finally seems to be over with after taking a small step back to open the season with three-straight finishes outside the top 20.
“It’s just great to be on the same page with all these guys. It’s just a good feeling. To be on the front row four times this year; it’s all happened since Texas,” said Busch, in his 14th year at the national level. “It was like that race there just turned the switch on for us, and it’s been a great ride. So we’re just going to keep rolling.”
Currently 15th in the Sprint Cup standings and 21 points behind Greg Biffle’s crucial 10th-place spot, this weekend is looking as good as ever for Busch to pick up his first win with Furniture Row and first with any team since taking the October 2011 race at Dover for Penske Racing. His No. 78 Chevy was one of just four cars to top 200 mph in any of the three Michigan practices, taking first in the latter two after a second-place spot on the leaderboard behind Kasey Kahne in the first.
Busch’s average finish of 21.4 at Michigan International Speedway is his third-worst at any Cup track, but it is also just one of five tracks that he has multiple victories at. His speed this weekend (and really all season) is no fluke, as his qualifying speed of 201.879 mph was good enough to put him alongside pole winner Carl Edwards in the front row. However, after spending close to a decade and a half on NASCAR’s national circuit, Busch knows races aren’t won on Fridays.
“To be second, that’s qualifying, now we’ve just got to step into the race and that’s where we’ve got to close the deal,” he said. “We haven’t been as strong as we’ve needed to be in the last section of the race, like after the last pit stop or with two pit stops to go, that’s where we have to find a little bit more improvement. But otherwise, these Furniture Row guys are phenomenal, and we’re knocking on the door.”
If Busch and his crew are able to maintain their game plan and nothing too unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe that his No. 78 doesn’t have as likely of a shot to win the Quicken Loans 400 as any of the other favored drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Kahne). Busch’s 124 laps led in 2013 are more than six times as many as he had all of last season. The number also eclipses the individual totals of reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, 2012 runner-up Clint Bowyer, and Earnhardt, all three of whom are above him in the standings.
Even more terrifying for his competitors is that he realistically has a shot to win back-to-back weeks -- something that has not been accomplished by any driver in 2013 -- as next week’s location, Sonoma Raceway, ranks among his best. His last two races there have resulted in a victory (2011) and third-place finish (2012), giving him five top-five finishes in 12 starts.
Not lost in all of Busch’s exploits this season is the fact that he does have the beneficial support of a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“It’s vital to be teamed up with a big program to know that they’re working behind the scenes on all the speed that they’re trying to find,” said the 34-year-old. “And then it bleeds over with the things that we have found and have distributed to Richard Childress Racing. So you always hope there’s that nice two-way street. And everybody at RCR has been rooting us on and we’re there trying to push them and there are new things that we’re bringing to the race track and each of the teams are working on little things. They consider us a fourth car.”
With just one car fielded by the small FRR team out of Colorado, Busch benefits from the ability to share notes with his RCR cohorts.
“It’s great to have those teammate notes, so to speak, with (Kevin) Harvick and (Paul) Menard and (Jeff) Burton. That way I can look at notes and understand things quickly. When it comes down to more of the engineering side, and those guys being able to communicate, and it’s the alliance that we have. It’s what we pay for. And it’s great to see it work.”