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NASCAR Season Preview: Kurt Busch

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#51 Tag Heuer Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing

Born: August 4, 1978

Home: Las Vegas, Nevada

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: In his first year driving a Penske Racing car not sponsored by Miller Lite, Busch started off hot by winning both the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Duel at Daytona. He led the points early in the season before dropping off, but still scored race wins at Infineon and the second Dover race and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, finishing 11th.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: A series of tirades over the course of the season, from comparing his team to “monkeys humping a football” at Richmond to tearing apart reporter Dr. Jerry Punch at Homestead, returned the bad-boy image that most thought Busch had left to his brother Kyle years ago. Owner Roger Penske finally dumped his former lead driver at the end of the season.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Busch is starting from square one this year, running on a one year contract with Phoenix Racing as he attempts to re-establish himself as a top-tier Sprint Cup driver and sign a big free-agent contract in 2013. Owner James Finch is known around the garage as one of the easiest owners to drive for, but also unwilling to put up with anything detrimental to his team. In many ways, that’s the best possible fresh start for Busch and his public relations issues: an environment that will allow him to prove himself off the track, if he’s made any progress with his behavior. (Ironically, in the ultimate public relations nightmare team, he’ll split a ride with brother Kyle in the Nationwide Series as well, but sponsor Monster Energy may very well enjoy those fireworks.)

On the track, the combination is as good on paper as any independent team. Finch gets his equipment from Hendrick Motorsports, leading some to incorrectly accuse Rick Hendrick of turning Finch’s operation into a fifth, satellite Hendrick team. Busch, of course, was the first Chase winner back in 2004, and seems to make the cut almost every year. That may be a stretch for both this season, but taking at least a win or two, ranking in the top 20 of points, and positioning Busch well to sign with a big team again in 2013.

– Chris Leone

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