After fighting and scrapping throughout the Sprint Cup regular season, Kurt Busch and his single-car Furniture Row Racing team received their just reward Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Overcoming early pit woes with a pace that never flagged on his No. 78 Chevy, Busch took home a second-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 to clinch a spot in NASCAR’s post-season stretch.
Of course, the job is not yet done. As he indicated on Thursday, Busch, a former Sprint Cup champion, is not here to simply make the show, but to put a second Sprint Cup on his mantle.
Still, the glassy, emotional eyes he sported in his post-race television interview seemed to indicate that he knew the magnitude of his accomplishment tonight.
After damaging his reputation with several controversies in the past, he has won back many fans with his efforts this season for the Colorado-based FRR. Now, he and the little team that can – not could, can – will be dueling with the big boys this fall for a title.
“It’s been a journey,” Busch told ESPN. “It’s been a great ride of trying to persevere and go up against the odds, when certain things are against you that are out of your control – and sometimes, you induce things that put you in the position to have to dig hard and keep working.”
Busch took the lead for the first time at Lap 66 and once more at Lap 110, but lost it after a slow stop on pit road under yellow at Lap 136. The FRR pit crew’s problems through the regular season had been a focal point going into tonight’s race.
But after that issue, Busch quickly picked himself back up, moving up to second by the halfway point of the race. His team then gained redemption on his next stop (also under yellow), enabling their man to leapfrog early contender Brad Keselowski for the lead.
Busch would eventually give up the lead on the next green stint, but kept within the Top 5 for the remainder of the night.
And with Jeff Gordon, his main nemesis for the 10th spot in the Cup standings, having to rally from two laps down after pitting under green for a loose right-front wheel, it became more and more clear that Busch was going to pull it off.
Afterwards, Busch praised his team for a job well done.
“[Team owner] Barney Visser started this with these guys in Colorado years ago, and here we are in the Chase,” he said. “And when you get a guy like [crew chief] Todd Berrier to come in and help arrange things, cut weight out of the cars, knows his way around the garage – he’s a veteran leader.”
“…We’ve got some muscle in us. We haven’t won a race yet this year, but we’re in the Chase and we’ve got a good ten weeks ahead where we can do some great things.”
The Chase begins next weekend in Chicago, and with that, the final chapter together for Busch and FRR will begin as well. Next year, he’ll move on to what will be a four-car armada at Stewart-Haas Racing.
But thanks to their work tonight at Richmond, at least this feel-good story is going to have a few more pages.