Kurt Busch: Which Sprint Cup Car Will He Be Driving in 2012?
It's safe to say that 2011 wasn't Kurt Busch's finest year. Despite scoring four wins (two of them non-points victories in the Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duel at Daytona), Busch fell from grace pretty steadily from the start of the year to the end. After a series of tirades against his crew and multiple altercations with journalists late in the season, Roger Penske finally had enough and pulled the plug on Busch on December 5.
Since then, the inaugural Chase for the Cup winner has fielded offers from a host of teams. Even though most of the silly season dust clears by October, it's not often that a championship-caliber driver with marketing power like Busch comes along. Mid-pack and lower-level teams are more than willing to clear house in order to step up in driving talent and hire a top driver, even if he has attitude issues.
The following teams have shown their interest in Busch publicly. They vary in caliber and owners' points, and some would undoubtedly have to prepare to use Busch's champion's provisional, especially early on in the season. There's a chance that Busch could end up in any one of these rides depending on what he's willing to settle for.
Without further ado, here they are.
No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
2011 Owners Points: 15th, 1013 points
Pros: This is still a front-of-the-pack ride that ranked 15th in points last year with A.J. Allmendinger. Busch could be the driver to take this team to the next level and land the famed No. 43 in the Chase for the first time.
Cons: Best Buy has been a tough sell on staying with this team for the past couple of seasons, apparently because they aren't totally warmed up on Allmendinger's personality. It's hard to imagine that Busch would fit their image any better, but ex-teammate Matt Kenseth might, meaning that sponsorship may head to Roush Fenway Racing. RPM also gets its cars and engines from Jack Roush, who had some major issues with Busch during the end of his time on that team.
Odds: About 5 to 1
No. 19 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
2011 Owners Points: Team was inactive in 2011
Pros: If able to land extra sponsorship for either Busch or Allmendinger (depending upon what Best Buy wants), RPM would be able to expand to three cars once again. Busch could be the veteran hand to guide Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose to more consistent finishes and a possible ascent in the standings.
Cons: RPM isn't going to restart this team simply to employ Busch. They're not exactly rolling in the dough (remember the Best Buy question—the No. 43 hasn't made any sponsorship announcements yet), and there's no way they'll establish a third ride just for the sake of having one. And, again, there's the question of "will Jack Roush even allow Kurt Busch back in Roush-prepared equipment?"
Odds: About 20 to 1
No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2011 Owners Points: 26th, 820 points
Pros: If Regan Smith ends up replacing Busch at Penske Racing, Busch could inherit Smith's old ride with Furniture Row. This is a winning race team (they took their maiden victory at Darlington in 2011) with decent Chevrolet support, and Busch could take them to the next level. With Chase rules giving wild-card preference to winners in the top 20 in points, Busch could get this team in.
Cons: Smith is still employed and signed through the 2012 season, and the team isn't just going to dump the race winner that got them to where they are today. This is only happening if Penske picks Smith up, and that's not a guarantee by any means. David Ragan still looks like the front-runner for the No. 22 ride.
Odds: About 20 to 1
No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
2011 Owners Points: 30th, 618 points
Pros: Phoenix is a quietly consistent team that solidly made the top 35 in owners' points, with rookie Landon Cassill posting a series of consistent runs. David Ragan had been speaking with them about taking over this ride, but he's now the front-runner to replace Busch at Penske Racing. As promising as Cassill is, he's no Busch. This team also scored Brad Keselowski his first Sprint Cup win at Talladega in 2009.
Cons: Team owner James Finch has made it intently clear that Busch won't be able to step out of line with Phoenix: "Kurt, his talent is pretty good. He's one of the best there is, but I'm not going to listen to that s--- and pay him money." Finch might have Busch on a very short leash, and if two hard-nosed owners like Roger Penske and Jack Roush couldn't rein him in, who's to say that Finch will?
Odds: About 15 to 1
No. 71 TRG Motorsports Ford
2011 Owners Points: 36th, 466 points
Pros: Even with limited sponsorship, team owner Kevin Buckler has the finances to keep this team running thanks to a rock-solid Porsche GT program in the Rolex Sports Car Series. And with Busch in his car, the type of little sponsors that frequently flock to TRG would probably be willing to write some larger and more frequent paychecks.
Cons: Buckler has not had a chance to speak to Busch yet as far as we know, and compared to some of the other rides available, this is a far less attractive proposition. They're not in the top 35 in owners' points, opening up the possibility of using multiple champion's provisionals early on in the season.
Odds: About 15 to 1
No. 93 Sinica Motorsports Chevrolet
2011 Owners Points: 62nd, 0 points
Pros: Well, Kurt said he wanted a fresh start. This would be the ultimate definition of that. The No. 93 attempted only one race last season, at Homestead with driver Grant Enfinger, and did not qualify. Enfinger was let go due to a lack of Sprint Cup experience (he's only ever run one full schedule at any national level, finishing fourth in ARCA points in 2011). Establishing a brand new team around a Sprint Cup champion has to be any prospective owner's wildest fantasy.
Cons: Kurt also said that he wanted to make racing "fun" again. What interest does he have in running a limited schedule for a start-up team with no infrastructure, minimal sponsorship and zero experience? That doesn't sound like much fun unless you're interested in building a team, and since he's made it clear that ownership isn't his thing, it's hard to see where team development would be.
Odds: About 40 to 1