A more calm Kurt Busch?

Posted: April 04, 2014

KURT BUSCH, mystery man? Has Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup series champion, finally matured, or will he suddenly go off if he encounters adversity?

Busch is with his fourth Cup series team. It's not unusual for top drivers to change teams once or even twice during their careers. But landing with a fourth team when you're only 35 is excessive.

When Busch left Roush Fenway a year after winning his title, the prevailing opinion there was "good riddance." He was dismissed from Penske Racing following the 2011 season after he was heard cursing at a TV crew.

Last year, Busch drew accolades for piloting the single-car Furniture Row Chevrolet team into the Chase, finishing 10th. Now, he's with Stewart-Haas Racing. Just six races into this season, Busch outmaneuvered Jimmie Johnson to win Sunday at Martinsville.

The older of the racin' Busch brothers seems more grounded now, more mature. He acknowledges he didn't respect his previous team and owners. He appears truly grateful that Gene Haas wanted him as the fourth SHR driver, joining Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.

"This is an unbelievable feeling," Busch said, "to get back to victory lane after this tour that I've been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart-Haas, and to win, it means the world to me. That's what I've always driven for was just going for the wins and you let the rough edges drag on the other side."

Busch smoothly passed Johnson, an eight-time winner at Martinsville, with 10 laps remaining after they had exchanged the lead: two top pros at the peak of their games. It was Busch's first win since the fall 2011 Dover race.

Said Busch: "I had such focus for the last 30 laps not to slip a tire and the emotion of performing at my best and then to deliver, I had this sharp chill go through my body of I've done it, I did it, I'm back on that stage, we're with a competitive organization, we're a winner, and it takes a team to do it."

Busch was specifically recruited for SHR by Gene Haas, who wanted his Haas Automation brand on the No. 41 Chevrolet.

"Obviously, it feels good," Haas said. "Basically there were a lot of naysayers and doubters out there about Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony [Stewart] having his injury last year and it looked like we were all washed up and out of business. But it just goes to show you that there is a team behind everybody that was always the backup plan we are still going forward."

Busch's victory at Martinsville wasn't without incident. His car collided with Keselowski's in the pits, enraging the 2012 Cup champion. For additional drama, they are former Penske teammates.

"I can't believe he overreacted and he's as upset as he is," Busch said. "The [No.] 5 car [Kasey Kahne] was trying to pull into his [pit] box, Brad ran into the back of him, I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbers our left side door, and it's like, OK, accidents happen on pit road. It's congested.

"I didn't think much of it, and then once we were back out running, he targeted us, he was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires. That's a no fly zone. That's a punk-ass move and he will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back."

Ah, now that's the Kurt Busch attitude that his fans love. Haas has a plan to keep Busch under control: "As far as Kurt Busch handling it I think he did a great job and we have obviously found a solution for Kurt: When he is in winner's circle he doesn't bitch about anything so that is where we need to keep him."

Softball rivalry returns

The Pocono Raceway-Dover International Speedway softball rivalry continues April 30 in York, Pa. Kasey Kahne will captain Team Pocono vs. the Jamie McMurray-led Team Dover in their third meeting. The teams will include media members and probably a few "ringers."

The 4:30 p.m. game will precede the York-Lancaster Atlantic League meeting. Admission to the softball game is free with a ticket to the evening's baseball game. For details, check www.YorkRevolution.com.

Kahne and McMurray will race at Dover on June 1 and Pocono on June 8.

Area tracks rev up

Two area short tracks open their regular seasons Saturday: Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, near Pottstown, and New Egypt Speedway in New Jersey. Check their websites for details: www.grandviewspeedway.com and www.newegyptspeedway.net Bridgeport Speedway, also in New Jersey, starts April 12.

This week's race

Duck Commander 500

Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas

When: Sunday, 3 p.m.

TV/Radio: Fox 29/WNPV (1440-AM)

Course: 1.5-mile oval

Distance: 334 laps/501 miles

Forecast: showers, mid-60s

Last year’s winner: Kyle Busch

Last year's pole winner: Kyle Busch, 196.299 mph (track qualifying record)

Track facts: Six different winners in the season’s first six races is a first since the Chase began in 2004. The last time there were seven different winners to start a season was 2003. The record is 10 in 2000 ... In last year’s spring Texas race Kyle Busch led the most laps (171), including the last 20, to gain the victory. Martin Truex Jr. (142 laps led) was second; Carl Edwards was third ... Edwards and Jimmie Johnson are three-time winners at Texas. Johnson won last year’s fall race at the track ... Richard Petty Motorsports drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola have had some strong recent races. In the last three races Ambrose has two fifth-place finishes; Almirola has a third and an eighth.

STANDINGS

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 227

2. Carl Edwards 217

3. Kyle Busch 189

4. Brad Keselowski 188

5. Kurt Busch 146

6. Kevin Harvick 135

7. Matt Kenseth 218

8. Jeff Gordon 216

9. Jimmie Johnson 209

10. Joey Logano 187

Up next: Bojangles’ Southern 500, April 12, Darlington Raceway, Darlington, S.C., 6:30 p.m.; TV: Fox; last year’s winner: Matt Kenseth.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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