Philadelphia, PA – A year and a half after his Sprint Cup Series career seemed to be in jeopardy, Kurt Busch has come full circle with him signing a multi-year contract to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.
SHR announced on Tuesday that it will expand to a four-car team, and Busch will be the driver of the fourth entry. The 35-year-old Busch is teaming with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, who is in his last season with Richard Childress Racing.
Busch coming on board with SHR next year might be his biggest career opportunity, and it's certainly going to be a chance for him to return to championship form in NASCAR's top series.
For quite some time, plans have been in the works for SHR co-owners Gene Haas and Stewart to add a fourth team. The racing organization made its debut at the start of the 2009 season, with Stewart and Ryan Newman as its drivers. Patrick drove a part-time Sprint Cup schedule for the team in 2012. She is now a full-time competitor in the series.
SHR announced last month that Harvick was in and Newman out for next season. Now the team has added Busch to its star-studded lineup.
"Tony was slapping me a high five," Busch said. "He says we're tapping into Gene's (Haas) wallet the way I wanted to. Tony is about finding better people and better products to go and utilize so he has a better chance of winning."
This year, Busch is driving the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, a single-car team owned by Barney Visser and located in Denver, Colo. Furniture Row is one of a few NASCAR national touring series teams that doesn't have its shop in North Carolina.
Busch has had quite a turnaround this year, following a tumultuous season in 2012. He sat no better than 23rd in points last year, driving for Phoenix Racing in 29 races and then Furniture Row for the last six events. Busch was suspended for the June race at Pocono for violating his probation when he made threatening comments to a reporter from The Sporting News one week earlier in a Nationwide Series event at Dover. Busch had been on probation for an incident that occurred with Newman's team at Darlington.
Over the years, Busch has been in trouble with one team after another. He's had numerous altercations with his team members, fellow competitors and members of the media. In fact, his disorderly behavior has cost him his job twice.
Busch drove for Roush Fenway Racing in his first five years in Cup. But he lost his job at Roush with two races remaining in the 2005 season due to an alcohol-related incident in Phoenix.
He spent his next six years with Penske Racing. But an incident with an ESPN reporter during the 2011 season-finale in Homestead, Fla. led to Busch's dismal from Roger Penske's team.
"It's easy as a 25-year-old to say you know everything, that you can do everything by yourself," he said. "That's what I thought that I could do when I moved from Roush Racing to Penske back in 2006, to bring Roger his first championship. I thought I could wear all the weight on my back. That was not the case. That's when you learn it's about the people, team communication, how it filters through all the channels.
"The Penske thing, the image, all of that, it wasn't your own identity, you were trying to be something else, stepping back and hitting the reset button, heading to Phoenix Racing, finding the true fun and true reason to go to the racetrack, rolling up your sleeves, getting dirty, being there with the guys, to feel that camaraderie, that old school let's work hard and not think about how to publicize things, how to put a twist on it to make it bigger than what it's supposed to be. That was so educational for me with having 10 years of experience in this sport."
Right now, Busch has a chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He is 12th in the standings, but trails 10th-place Joey Logano by just six points. The series heads to Atlanta this Labor Day weekend and then concludes its regular season on Sept. 7 at Richmond.
No single-car team has been in the Chase before.
"We have to be perfect the next two weeks to make the Chase," Busch said. "I'm as fired up as ever to try to deliver these guys into an area that they never thought was achievable, and at the same time, I have the future in front of me with Stewart-Haas Racing to know when you're starting a team out like this, you have teammates such as Stewart, Harvick and Danica, we're going to be putting all of the cars in the Chase next year. That's the difference of trying one car versus four."
Busch's chances of making the Chase next year will certainly be greater.