Sprint Cup Driver Review: Kurt Busch

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After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year.

Finishing 10th in the standings with the Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing was Kurt Busch…

No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2013 Stats: 10th Place, No Wins, 11 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s, 448 Laps Led
Average Start: 13.2
Average Finish: 14.7
DNFs: 2

Estrada Says: Following a 35th place finish at Michigan in June, Busch was 20th in the standings and nowhere near in contention for a post-season berth. Undaunted, he and FRR got on a major roll with eight Top-10s the final 11 regular season races and, more importantly, five in the last six to do what no single-car squad had ever done before: Make the Chase. The fact that they were able to accomplish that almost completely overshadows their late-season problems. After finishing fourth in the Chase opener at Chicagoland, the team began to go up-and-down (13th at New Hampshire, 21st at Dover, second at Kansas) before limping home with five finishes outside the Top-10 in the last six races. Busch is now at Stewart-Haas Racing, but both he and FRR proved themselves this year and they should both be better off for their time together.

DiZinno Says: I’m not sure whether Kurt Busch has “The Outlaw” on his business cards – or if he even has business cards – but “miracle worker” might be a good descriptor of his job title after his efforts with FRR in 2013. He was able to build on the final few races of 2012 when he had a chance to join the team after his stint at Phoenix Racing, and while he didn’t win this year, he helped single-handedly raise the performance and stature of the Denver-based team in the garage area. Regan Smith won the team’s first race a couple years ago, but Busch established FRR on the map this year and made it an attractive destination for others. A seriously impressive season that proved Busch’s elite talent and returns him to a championship-caliber team after two years in the relative wilderness.

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”