Kurt Busch: Why He'll Struggle to Make the Chase in a Second-Tier Car

David DeNennoContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 13:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans during Daytona Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway on January 13, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Before any argument is made to the contrary, one point should be crystal clear: Kurt Busch has a great shot at making the Chase in 2012.

Aside from the fact that he has signed on with a lesser-known outfit, not much has changed.

Sure, Phoenix Racing does not have the clout and prestige of Penske Racing and nowhere near the funding and sponsorship, but Busch is also relieved of the pressures associated with such an outfit.

That said, his chance to make the Chase must be considered slightly lower than at the beginning of last season. While no stranger to making the Chase, Busch will probably endure a bumpy road, albeit in a different manner than he is usually accustomed.

As 2012 commences, Busch has no teammate. He's truly running as a "lone ranger" on every track he runs in 2012.

This may sound small, but it makes many elements of the racing game more difficult.

No longer will he have a teammate with which to share ideas, tips, and of course, drafting duties when racing at restrictor plate tracks.

He did seem to find a suitable partner while testing at Preseason Thunder; he and Regan Smith drafted at 206 mph. This is more than ample speed to remain competitive.

Fortunately for Busch, NASCAR has eliminated radio communications between drivers, thus making extended drafting among teammates even more difficult.

Without communication during a race, drafting becomes much more difficult to coordinate and inherently benefits drivers that do not have the luxury of having one, two or three other teammates simultaneously out on the track.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 13:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, attends Daytona Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway on January 13, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

As stated, Kurt Busch is now in the lonely drivers' club.

The biggest loss for Busch off the track is the lack of a second pair of eyes and ears on everything he does. As a member of the Penske team, Busch had the advantage and luxury of the input of teammate Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team.

Actually, Busch perhaps even had an added advantage because he once drove the No. 2 "Beer Wagon," and probably still knew some of the personnel on the Miller Lite team.

All that's gone in 2012.

Busch has a great opportunity in 2012 to prove that, despite adversity, he can still race with the best competition the sport has to offer.

As a former champion, that should be enough incentive, in and of itself, to personally motivate him to be among the top 12 when the checkered flag drops in Richmond.

The road will not be easy. He may very well end up bowing out early of a few races that would never have happened at Penske Racing.

On the other hand, here's a stat that's quite strong and bodes well for Busch's Chase chances. Over the past 10 seasons, he has won a race every season.

In eight of those seasons, he has won more than one race.

In 2011, Denny Hamlin was able to limp into the second wild-card position on the strength of one win. Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had no wins but did not even need the wild card to enter the Chase. Busch has a shot.

He will have some setbacks and difficulties in 2012, many with which he may unaccustomed. It's doubtful that he will be less acerbic with his own team on the radio. He may be more so.

This should not completely hinder him, despite operating less-than top quality gear, from entering a place to which he is more accustomed than almost anyone in NASCAR—the Sprint Cup Chase.