41 – Kurt Busch
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Crew Chief: Daniel Knost
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships: 1 (2004)
Chase History: 8th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 1st in 2004
Regular Season Recap: Starting slow and taking methodical steps forward has been the story for Kurt Busch this year, in his return to a top-flight team after two years spent overachieving with the Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing squads. The fourth Stewart-Haas Racing team, the No. 41, had several reliability issues that plagued the first half of his season; Busch had five DNFs and ranked a season-low 28th in the points after the Coca-Cola 600, the 12th round of the season. Most of that time frame he also had the Indianapolis 500 on his mind, in what has been one of the stories of the season. But hey, he did bank a win early at Martinsville, which was enough to put him in the Chase and key considering this new team hasn’t fully hit its stride yet.
Chris’ Take: Growing pains with a new team and a host of problems on the track marred the first half of the year for Kurt Busch, but it would seem that by this time, everyone on the 41 team should have found their rhythm together by now. And with the Hendrick power on hand, I have a hunch that the Outlaw could be a dark horse.
However, while he’s ran better in the second half of 2014, he still isn’t as consistent a Top-10 finisher as he needs to be in this stretch. Advancing from the Challenger Round should be easy enough, but I can see him being a guy that would need a win in that final Contender Round event at Talladega to move on – and I’m not sure he could get it.
Jerry’s Take: It’s been a rough season for Kurt Busch. Other than his early-season win at Martinsville, he’s literally been off the map more times than on. There’s no question he has talent; he’s a former Cup champion, earning the crown in the first year of the Chase’s existence. But this season has been such a struggle that we honestly don’t see him getting very far in the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe, he can somehow advance to the second round, but that’s where things stop. We don’t see a Cinderella story in Busch’s future at all.
Tony’s Take: Like brother Kyle, Kurt Busch has been rather inconsistent throughout the 2014 season, although unlike Kyle, you’d expect it from Kurt given the fourth SHR team is a new one and takes time to gel. Whether it’s been on pit road or under the hood, few things have gone right for Kurt during this season, after a year in which he performed a memorable underdog run to the Chase with the single-car Furniture Row outfit.
So how will his Chase go? About the same, I’d think. But he could well advance further than you’d think assuming he shook all the bad luck in the first third of the year Just look at his run post-the Coca-Cola 600; only two finishes outside the top-20 with three third-place results have moved him up seven spots in the points.
Kurt Busch’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 7 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Three wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 27 starts
Dover (1 mile) – One wins, 6 Top-5s, 8 Top-10s in 28 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10s in 17 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – One wins, 6 Top-5s, 7 Top-10s in 28 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – No wins, 6 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 27 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Two wins, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 28 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 12 Top-10s in 23 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – One wins, 5 Top-5s, 12 Top-10s in 23 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – One wins, 4 Top-5, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts