Could Furniture Row expand Cup team?

Furniture Row Racing has met with Kurt Busch, but not in an effort to replace driver Regan Smith.

“I met with Kurt about starting a second team for next year,” said Joe Garone, FRR’s general manager.

Since FRR made its debut in 2005, it became clear to team owner Barney Visser that the Denver-based organization would eventually have to expand to two teams to compete with the NASCAR powerhouses.

Before speaking with Furniture Row, Busch made a point of approaching Smith “just to make him aware of the situation.” The drivers have found success working together in races at Daytona and Talladega. In 2011, Smith pushed Busch to victory in the first Gatorade Duel.

“Regan and I have always had a pretty good understanding of how to operate on the restrictor-plate racetracks together and tandem draft,” Busch said. “When you do that, it just kind of develops a relationship before you have a chance to meet as friends, buddies or coworkers.

“It’s nice that people want to talk and that they’re showing interest in me driving for them. And there have been other teams interested. It’s very early. (Phoenix Racing team owner James) Finch knows and the rest of the team knows that I’m a free agent. But I’m committed to racing the entire year here at Phoenix Racing and (will) talk with whoever wants to talk about racing in the future.”

Asked by a fan on Twitter if he would like to have Busch as a teammate, Smith responded: "Absolutely, he would bring experience and tons of talent."

Smith, 28, has been part of the fabric of FRR since joining the team in 2009. He earned his first Sprint Cup win in last year’s Southern 500 in his 105th career start. While Smith’s qualifying effort has picked up considerably this season, his average finish of 21.4 has been marred by bad luck and struggles on intermediate tracks. Still, there’s pressure for Smith to perform given that he’s in a contract year.

Although an investor expressed interest in partnering with FRR, that deal fell through. However, Furniture Row has been mentioned as one of the top candidates for the Dodge Motorsports program. The sticking point in finalizing the deal appears to be which company will build the Dodge engines. Roger Penske currently builds Dodge engines for his teams. However, with Penske Racing moving to Fords for 2013, it’s unclear what the future of Dodge’s engine program will be.

Mark McArdle, director of competition for Furniture Row, is more than capable of establishing an engine department. McArdle acted as an engine specialist for Penske Racing’s open-wheel teams from 1989 to 1993 during the era when both Rick Mears (1991) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1993) won the Indianapolis 500. McArdle then moved to Ilmor Engineering, where he built the winning Indy 500 engine for Al Unser Jr. in 1994.

McArdle made his way to NASCAR with Cal Wells PPI Motorsports in 1999. He joined forces with Yates Racing Engines two years later. In 2003, McArdle was recruited to oversee Ray Evernham’s engine shop, which was under the Dodge banner at the time. McArdle was appointed director of competition not long after Evernham merged with George Gillett in 2007.

A difference in philosophy between McArdle and team owner Gillett at Richmond in 2009 led to a parting of the ways. Before the next racing season, McArdle became managing director of competition for Furniture Row.

What is missing from the Dodge equation, however, is a marquee driver. Certainly, Busch would fill that void.

“There is that possibility,” Busch said regarding a return to the Dodge camp. “Guys like (Richard Petty Motorsports) have approached me. I’ve talked to (team owner) Andy Murstein and (CEO) Brian Moffitt — and their connection to Dodge. And of course my connection to Dodge — Ralph Gilles (president and CEO of Dodge SRT) — is really interested, as well. So there’s all kinds of options.

“At the same time, you’d have to build it up, as well. There’s all types of discussions that are going on.”