The NASCAR season is entering its summer swing, with many teams already having experienced incredible highs and lows. During the summer stretch, it seems the cream always rises to the top. The races between the Coca-Cola 600 and the regular-season ending race at Richmond are where NASCAR’s elite thrives.
Multiple champions such as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon all seem to move towards the top of the points standings, and rarely appear outside of the top 10 during these races.
What do all of these hungry veterans have in common that allows them to find success during the grueling repetition of the summer stretch? Well, from the names above, all have been at championship-caliber teams for multiple years; Johnson and Gordon with Hendrick Motorsports, and Stewart not only with Joe Gibbs Racing, but his own team Stewart-Haas Racing as well.
This is where Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing come into play. Both find themselves in an unexpectedly disappointing position, 18th in standings near a third of the way through the season. But, Busch is only 53 points behind the 10th place cutoff, and has shown the pace to win races.
His two top-five finishes earlier this season were impressive, and Busch was nearly able to capture his fourth top-ten this Saturday night at Darlington, despite having a wounded car from an incident earlier in the race. Busch’s car before that was fast off the trailer, winning the team its second-ever pole.
It is important to remember that despite a drastic drop-off in 2012, Kurt Busch made the Chase in 2009-2011 with Roger Penske. It was his lack of maturity and leadership that tossed him from the upper echelon of the Sprint Cup Series and has seen him struggling to claw his way back.
This same hunger to reach the Chase, and establish legitimate contention for a Sprint Cup Series Championship, is something Barney Visser and Furniture Row Racing have been striving for in recent years. Previously joked for being Hendrick Motorsports’ D-League team, Furniture Row Racing needs to take this opportunity and perform like they never have before if they have any hope of making their first Chase for The Sprint Cup.
The acclimation process between Busch and the team is now over. There have been the expected ups and downs that come with every team receiving a new driver. Kurt Busch had to be frustrated with veteran crew chief Todd Berrier after Darlington, after arguably the fastest car they had all season didn’t even finish in the top-10.
Being a NASCAR driver is absolutely akin to being an NFL quarterback. While those in the trenches or behind the wall make or break teams, the drivers and quarterbacks are not only the face of the team, but have every decision they make scrutinized.
Kurt Busch has certainly been humbled, and it is time for him to lead. He needs to get the most out of the still-developing Furniture Row Racing team and find the consistency during the summer stretch that most champions experience.
Rather than before, when Busch has seemed to quit on his teams or stubbornly not take responsibility for his actions, he has the opportunity to be a leader this year; and if he accepts his new role with a small developing team, he can lead Front Row Racing — along with himself — to greatness.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486