Well, another domino has fallen. Everyone now knows where Kurt Busch will be in 2012. He will be piloting the No. 51 car for Phoenix Racing, which is owned by James Finch. I have to say I am not totally surprised he signed to drive over there.
If you remember when Kurt left Roush-Fenway, he did it because he had just been frustrated for so long. I talked with Kurt a number of times back then and his two biggest complaints were the organization’s failure to listen to the input of the drivers and its slowness in applying new technology to the race cars.
Kurt, like his younger brother, Kyle, is a pretty high-strung individual, and it became progressively worse every Sunday when he climbed into that race car and his frustration took over. Then, at some point during a race, if they were having a particularly bad day, Kurt would lose it. We’ve all heard his meltdowns and his radio rants. I mean, they are reaching legendary status.
You have to understand that Kurt is a great driver and has unbelievable talent. He is as determined a driver as you will ever meet. All he cares about is winning races, making the Chase and vying for another championship.
When he went to Penske Racing, he saw the potential there for greatness. Let’s face it: Their resources run deep, and that’s what it takes in our sport today to succeed. As time went by, Kurt’s belief was the team wasn’t living up to its potential. There was no consistency. Sure, they might win a race, but then they would be mediocre for the next five races.
For a driver, that just puts you in a box. With some people, when their frustration level reaches the breaking point, their only recourse is to lash out. They aren’t able to control their emotions. We’ve seen that these past two years when Kurt would explode over the radio during a race and would attack everyone at Penske Racing, it seemed — even down to the folks who mowed the grass.
Again, unfortunately, that is the nature of some drivers who can’t control themselves when things aren’t going well.
If I had been Kurt, I wouldn’t have had any hesitation in signing up to drive for James Finch. James is a fun guy. He likes to have a good time, and more important, he loves to win. James will spend whatever it takes.
The other positive for Kurt is that Phoenix Racing has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. Just like Stewart-Haas Racing does, Phoenix Racing gets its cars and motors from the Hendrick camp. So if you have those assets at your fingertips, plug in a talent like Kurt Busch plus maybe bring in some more folks to give Kurt what he wants, then you have the possibility of some really good things happening.
If James believes in Kurt and Kurt returns that loyalty, I see James spending the money to take his program to another level. I really think the potential is there for this team to surprise a lot of people. I really believe the change in atmosphere and attitude that a place like Phoenix Racing offers will do Kurt a world of good.
When you are at a team that has all the resources necessary and you have a driver with boatloads of talent, you have a great crew chief and all the support personnel around you, the pressure to win every race is staggering. Trust me, I know because I lived it for a time.
When I left Junior Johnson and went to drive the Tide car for Rick Hendrick and had Waddell Wilson and they brought in all these folks to support us, we were dubbed the “Dream Team.” That period was anything but dreamy. The dream quickly turned into a nightmare. So we had to make changes, and when we did, well, then we started winning.
That was like 25 years ago and the scars still run deep. If you remember the start of this year’s NFL season, everyone pointed to the Philadelphia Eagles and the talent they had amassed through trades and free agency. The instant I heard the media call them the “Dream Team,” the hair on the back of my neck went up and I went, “Uh, oh — that’s the kiss of death.”
Unfortunately for them, it was. Players got hurt. The team didn’t live up to its potential and fans were screaming for Andy Reid to be run out of town on a rail, though the team still has a shot at winning the NFC East. Calling a group the “Dream Team” is like the same curse as being on the cover of Madden’s video games.
Kurt won’t have anything like that kind of pressure at Phoenix Racing. I would be shocked if you see them on anyone’s preseason picks to make the Chase. I doubt anyone will give them much of a chance to even win a race. That’s exactly why I believe Kurt will shine and shock people.
The drivers’ mentality is to win. They also want to do things that others couldn’t believe could be done. Shocking your competition is the absolute greatest feeling in the world to a driver. Kurt has been kicked around and blasted by everyone as of late — and, yes, it was of his own making. However, you take someone like him with his God-given talent and put him with an organization with great resources that is off everyone’s radar and the pressure to win every single race is off — well, all I can say is watch out.
Personally I am excited about all the recent changes. I think the pairing of Roger Penske and AJ Allmendinger is great.
And I will not be the least bit surprised if sometime during one of our NASCAR on FOX broadcasts next year that we don’t interview Kurt Busch in Victory Lane.
This is really what Kurt needs. The pressure and tension to win every single weekend will be off. It will give him the chance to refocus and reenergize himself. I think owner James Finch will do a lot to help Kurt with that. When a driver is actively involved in building and creating a team, good things happen, so I believe Kurt will benefit greatly from that.
That still leaves The King’s famous No. 43 car without a driver. Personally, I think if you pair up David Reutimann with Robbie Loomis and The King, great things could happen over there. Darian Grubb has replaced Mike Ford as Denny Hamlin’s crew chief. I think that is a great move. Greg Zippadelli is now reunited with Tony Stewart and will be that company’s competition director. On top of that, Tony now has Steve Addington as his crew chief.
I have yet to see any downside to the changes we have seen in this offseason. All these new pairings will increase the anticipation and excitement as we head to Daytona testing in about 2-1/2 weeks. So all the dominos are starting to fall into place for 2012; now we all wait to see who will be behind the wheel of the No. 43. Naturally I am biased, but I hope Santa puts a Richard Petty Motorsports contract in David Reutimann’s stocking.
From all the Waltrips, Merry Christmas to everyone. We hope your holiday is a safe and enjoyable one.