By admin | April 21, 2012
By Richard Allen
One of the most talked about subjects in NASCAR during the past off season was Kurt Busch and his departure from Penske Racing. The often temperamental driver had been caught by video cameras in the garage delivering some harsh remarks toward an ESPN camera crew. That incident precipitated a split between the driver and his team.
But it became quickly apparent after Busch and Penske reached their ‘mutual agreement’ to separate that there were very few options for the talented driver. Virtually all the premier rides at the Sprint Cup level were filled which left the former Sprint Cup champion sifting through second tier operations in hopes of finding a place to land.
Eventually Busch found his way into the seat of Phoenix Racing’s Chevrolet for car owner James Finch. At the time the “handshake” agreement between the two parties was announced it didn’t seem as if it would be a total loss for Busch as Phoenix had once won a race at Talladega with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel and the team had some support from powerful Hendrick Motorsports.
However, things have not gone well for the pairing so far in 2012. The season began in the worst possible way in Daytona as the team brought home multiple wrecked cars, including a primary piece that was severely damaged after completing only one lap of the Daytona 500 as well as a Nationwide Series car that was crashed on the last lap of that race while battling for the win.
In all, Busch has finished outside the top-30 three times this season in and has only one top-10 in seven Sprint Cup starts. A crash in Las Vegas left the team with another damaged racer.
For Finch, the situation has become somewhat perilous. This past Sunday night the car owner appeared on the Speed TV show ‘Wind Tunnel’ with host Dave Despain. During that airing Finch admitted that it was “up in the air” as to whether or not his team would be able to make all of the 36 races on the Sprint Cup schedule without sponsorship.
After the ‘Wind Tunnel’ interview, Finch moved to clarify his position. “My plan is to run the whole season,” he declared. “I’m not saying it might not change. My plan is to run the whole season, and my biggest deal right now is to find sponsorship to improve the team.”
But that second statement didn’t make the first admission go away. Obviously there is at least the potential that the #51 team might not complete the entire schedule.
Busch, however, is hopeful that a backer, or backers, can be found. “I’ve had a handshake agreement with Finch to run the full season since December,” he said. “We’ve talked and that hasn’t changed.
“Do we need sponsorship? Absolutely,“ he added. “We’ve had a handful of races sponsored this season and both Finch and I are working on some things that will help us out as the year goes on, but the search for sponsorship is ongoing.”
The real question for Busch goes beyond this season. When he gave up the Penske seat, that became the second ride he left from during the course of his NASCAR career. The other departure being from Roush Fenway Racing. Both of those teams have previously indicated that they essentially consider Busch as toxic material due to past experiences. That narrows the field of potential future rides considerably.
And with sponsorships drying up all over the sport, the number of top tier rides has decreased over the last couple of years with more than one team to have either reduced its numbers or folded altogether.
So, after this season will there be any place for Kurt Busch to go? Did he gamble away his career when he ventured into the realm of second tier teams in hopes of repairing his tarnished image and landing a better ride in 2013?
For his part, Finch said later in the week after his Sunday night admission that he would like to extend his relationship with Busch.
“Kurt is doing what he can do,” Finch explained. “He’s been great to work with. He knows he’s got to get back with a sponsored team to make money. My deal is to find a sponsor and keep Kurt.”
For now at least, it looks as if Busch better hope Finch is able to put that kind of deal together.
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