News & Media

New year, new team, new Kurt

January 23, 2013, Holly Cain,

With a new team and a new outlook, 2013 could be the year of the new Kurt Busch

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If a peaceful, easy feeling can translate into 200-mph mojo, watch out for Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing in the 2013 NASCAR season.

Busch and team executives from the Denver-based Furniture Row team met with reporters Tuesday morning during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway to preview the upcoming season. Their strategy, the group explained, is not to turn up the pressure and ramp up the work rhythm for their first full season together. Instead, Busch was directed to relax this offseason and have faith in the little-team-that-could.

“It was purposeful,’’ Furniture Row Racing General Manager Joe Garone explained with a smile. “We wanted to make it as peaceful as we possibly could for Kurt. And we’re able to do that being the owner and sponsor of the car. We can cancel sponsor appearances or commitments really easy and (team owner) Barney (Visser) was OK with that.

“We tried to keep Kurt as work-free as possible, let him relax a little bit. He feels real strong about the race team and has a real comfort level about what we’re doing at the shop to give him the cars he needs to go and win races. It was just a great offseason for him to relax.’’

It might seem counter-intuitive for an athlete to back off commitments and take an offseason pass, but in this case, both Busch and the team are betting the fresh start will ultimately pay big dividends.

Busch has spent the last few months skiing in the slopes near the team’s Denver base. He went to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for New Year’s Eve.

“I just took in the scenery and it was beautiful,’’ said Busch, looking comfortable and settled while leaning back into an oversized arm chair as reporters sized up his new situation and inquired about his mindset and chances for 2013.  

Whenever the opportunity arose during the media visit, Busch would turn the subject to his work bringing awareness and raising money for military causes -- something he has passionately embraced.

Busch devoted a lot of time free time this off-season raising money for military causes -- including $500,000 in a single Barrett Jackson auction event he helped organize -- and visiting with military veterans “without a big crowd or bunch of television cameras.’’

“It’s so remarkable to see their internal drive to overcome their injury and their obstacles and it’s given me a lot of motivation to know when I’m having my rougher times it doesn’t hold a candle to what these guys have gone through,’’ Busch said.

And he has certainly endured his share of professional rough times since winning the 2004 Sprint Cup Series championship.

After claiming the sport’s big trophy with the Roush-Fenway Racing team, he moved to the legendary Penske Racing operation but parted ways unceremoniously following a tumultuous 2011 season.

Last year Busch drove for the small, lower-budget Phoenix Racing team intent on humbling his image and resurrecting his career.

Furniture Row hired Busch for the last six races of the 2012 season, convinced that a change in scenery and the right resources combined with Busch’s never-questioned talent would be the right move for everyone involved.

Busch promptly rewarded the decision with some of the best results the team had ever had, including three consecutive top-10 finishes to close out the season.

“It was great to be able to produce those results and it gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling that, ‘OK we’re going to be just fine,’” Busch said.

The team is certainly willing to see if “warm and fuzzy” works out for the famously temperamental Busch. Once prone to fuss and cuss at reporters, he seemed determined to show a kinder, gentler side.

No one has ever questioned his ability or desire, but much has been lost in the occasional headline-making missteps. He still believes people have a misconception about who he really is, the good he does and talent he possesses.

“All we’ve talked about is the competition, honestly,’’ Garone said when asked about any worries about Busch’s temper. “That’s what it’s all about right now. Anything we can do to make it better on the race track for him as a driver is where we’re at.

“We’re not wasting time worrying about it. It is something we’ve thought about obviously, especially from the sponsorship side. But again, the more we’ve gotten to know Kurt and who he really is, we’re really not thinking about it.

Busch offered up some insight on his own.

“Coach ‘K’ (Mike Krzyzewski) at Duke coaches through praise,’’ Busch explained. “If you miss a free throw, it’s, 'OK, we’ll try another.’ Then you have (former Indiana Coach) Bobby Knight. If you miss a free throw, he gets all pissed off and throws a chair. That’s been my mentality over the years and it isn’t socially accepted.

“The fabric of our world is changing and that’s why a guy like Bobby Knight might have been phased out. That’s why I’ve had to learn from those situations.”

Judging from the vibe during this week during the team’s media session, Busch’s new attitude combined with an extraordinarily motivated and resourceful team may be just what he and the team need to achieve the kind of success both have sought.

“From my perspective, looking back at how the team has grown and (how) we’ve been able to acquire really good talent in our personnel, this year really is a pinnacle,’’ Garone said. “Everything has really come together. And Kurt, he truly ties it together.’’

There is a significant additional dose of confidence with a technical alliance established between Furniture Row and the legendary Richard Childress Racing program. Furniture Row is operating essentially as a “fourth RCR car.”

With the debut of the new Generation-6 car, a new team and a reinforced technical program, it is apparent that optimism is plenty as the team heads to Daytona Beach for the upcoming Speedweeks.

“When you have these scenarios where it’s new, fresh and exciting that’s when good things can happen,’’ Busch said.

“Barney Visser has been at this NASCAR game a long time and he needs to see his results now. And it’s time.

“We have everything we need to do our job.’’