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Busch to SHR best move of his career
Kurt Busch’s resurrection is now a fait accompli.
On Tuesday, Stewart-Haas Racing will officially announce Busch will be its fourth driver in 2014.
And it’s possible the 35-year-old Las Vegas native has never been happier.
"This is the situation that every driver wants to be in,” Busch told FOX Sports on Monday. “To have an owner like Gene Haas calling and asking you to come and race how you know how to race — and that is to win — Gene is giving me that opportunity.
“Having the powerhouse of (Tony) Stewart as a teammate and Kevin Harvick as a teammate makes this all the more intriguing.”
And what a lineup it will be. Stewart, Harvick and Busch boast a combined four Sprint Cup titles and 93 wins.
While Busch has been part of a “powerhouse” lineup before, he hasn’t had the luxury of working alongside a fellow champion since his Roush Fenway Racing days with teammate Matt Kenseth. But that seems ages ago now.
As it does for most racing prodigies, success came early to Busch and he was spoiled by his accomplishments. When he won the Cup title in 2004, the first year the Chase was introduced, it seemed hard to fathom that the wins and championships wouldn’t just keep on coming.
But Busch has endured a lot since 2005. During that tumultuous season, Roush Fenway Racing cut him loose two races before the year ended and before his impending move to Penske Racing.
At Penske, Busch was never able to recapture the magic he enjoyed with Roush. Certainly, he had large shoes to fill, taking over the seat of the No. 2 Miller Lite car from the uber-popular Rusty Wallace. Plus, Busch had trouble acclimating to the Penske open-wheel culture that relied more on engineering than driver feedback. It was tough for a driver who has tremendous feel and prefers to be hands-on and offer input on setup and strategies to work with people who didn’t want his advice.
Though no one predicted Busch’s abrupt departure from Penske at the end of the 2011 season, a blow-up with a reporter hastened his exit. Busch spent the next 18 months rehabilitating his image. He divorced, increased his philanthropic work — including active involvement with wounded warriors — and went on the wagon.
He got back on track with help from James Finch and his brother Kyle and won races in the Nationwide Series with both teams. Although Haas offered Busch a ride last season, he opted to take an offer more suited for him at the time with Furniture Row Racing, a single-car operation with a strong engineering base and technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
There, the focus was on Busch, and the team clicked immediately. He posted top-10 finishes in three of the final six races of 2012. Although FRR offered Busch a contract extension in January, he chose to see how the 2013 season progressed. Team owner Barney Visser had a calming effect on Busch throughout the year. With Visser’s family-owned team, Busch witnessed first-hand the racing experience from a sponsor perspective, something that had been lost on him in the past.
From a competition standpoint, Busch worked in concert with crew chief Todd Berrier and engineer Cole Pearn and closely with driver Kevin Harvick through the RCR connection. Not only was that a bonus for Busch, but it allowed the Denver-based company to compete for a Chase berth. That had never happened for a single-car team — particularly one outside of North Carolina.
Although Busch will finish out the season with Visser and Furniture Row Racing, his departure will be bittersweet. However, the opportunity for Busch to align with Stewart-Haas Racing, an operation with close ties to juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports through engines, chassis and engineering, will allow the racer not only the best opportunity of his career to showcase his talent but a legitimate chance to race for championships again.