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Keeping Pace

Quiet Kurt A Serious Chase Contender

Kurt Busch began his racing career in go-karts before moving on to Legends cars, the NASCAR Auto Zone Elite Division, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.


Guest Column By Cathy Elliott

For most race fans, some part of each day is currently spent perusing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver standings.

Everyone has his favorite, and as the proverbial rubber is now meeting the road where the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is concerned, we’re all trying to figure out who needs to do what in order to get where.

The game never changes, but the deck gets shuffled every week according to which table the teams are playing on, providing one of those freakishly rare situations where it is actually fun to sit around and crunch numbers.

The top four drivers appear to be sitting pretty. We talk about three of them an awful lot, but display a sort of casual disregard for the fourth. Unfortunately, sometimes the quiet, polite, articulate guys are the ones who get overlooked.

Yes, you read that right. I just used the words quiet, polite and articulate to describe … Kurt Busch.

It seems almost normal now for the ire of fans to be directed at his younger brother Kyle, but it hasn’t been so long ago that Kurt was actually considered the bad boy of the Busch family.

There’s no questioning his skill behind the wheel; Mark Martin once described him as “the most talented young race car driver I have ever seen.” For some reason, though, Busch has never fully exploded into superstardom like that of his other, sometimes less successful contemporaries.

One can’t help but wonder why. Everything about the Kurt Busch story screams “How to Become a Race Car Driver 101,” a course he graduated from with the highest honors.

Kurt began his racing career in go-karts before moving on to Legends cars, the NASCAR Auto Zone Elite Division, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He leap-frogged right over the NASCAR Nationwide Series and went straight to Cup, where he won his first race in only his second season of full-time competition. He went on to win three more races that year, and four more the following year.

He got married in 2006, and is seldom seen at the track without wife Eva at his side.
 
In 2008, he agreed to transfer his points to Sam Hornish, Jr., a new, less experienced teammate. That’s confidence. Although his champion’s provisional status guaranteed him a starting spot in the first five races of the season, after that, he had to earn his way in.

He didn’t miss a race.

Drop a different name into this story, and you might think we’re talking about one of racing’s perennially popular golden boys. But all that glitters is not necessarily gold, and Busch found his luster tarnished now and again along the way.

He’s been involved in some of the most famous NASCAR feuds in recent history, with adversaries including Jimmy Spencer, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.

And on GQ magazine’s list of the most hated athletes of 2006, he was ranked third, behind Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens. That’s some powerful antipathy.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it seems important to note that enmity is the mirror image of adulation. Mediocrity never inspires such passionate responses. They are reserved for the very best.

Anyone can pilot a ship when the sea is peaceful. It’s navigating through all that wind and rain that truly tests a sailor’s mettle.

Speaking of which, did we mention that Kurt Busch was the inaugural champion under the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series format in 2004?

It’s enjoyable watching Busch these days because he seems to be having so much fun. Once considered to be somewhat arrogant when dealing with the media, he now gives clear, thoughtful answers when a question is asked, and he is nice about it.

Once considered a contender to win every event, he suffered through a less than amicable departure from Roush Fenway Racing in 2005 and a couple of disappointing — by his standards — seasons at Penske Racing before making his way back to the upper ranks of the drivers standings.

Once considered the driver most likely to be engaged in fisticuffs, now when you see him walking through the garage, he’s usually smiling.

We’re all familiar with the concept that before a severe storm comes a period of calm during which the wind is still and even the birds stop singing.

Well, this idea seems to have been turned on its ear. Sunny skies and a positive forecast indicate that, for Kurt Busch, the calm after the storm is a much better place to be.


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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