Kurt Busch did not win the championship last season. He also did not win a single race. While statistically, 2013 was by no means the best or most memorable year of his career, it was easily the most significant.
His surprising run in 2013 has given him a new chance with a new team, and he is once again a legitimate championship contender.
Following the series finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2011, the frustrations of a poor playoff performance reached their boiling point for Busch. During a post-race interview with ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, Busch launched a verbal tirade at the legendary motorsports commentator.
Weeks after the incident, Busch was released from his contract with Penske Racing and left without a ride for the following season.
With his reputation damaged, Busch's only driving opportunity arose with James Finch and his single-car operation, Phoenix Racing.
Busch scored career worsts, with just five top-10 finishes and only one top-five finish, driving in the underfunded car.
Late in the 2012 season, Busch announced that he would drive the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet in 2013. That car is also a single-car team, but had proven to be a little more successful than the automobile he was currently driving.
Putting a good season together for a small team while continuing to repair his reputation was key if Busch hoped to land a ride on a top-tier organization ever again.
And that is precisely what he did.
Busch and his team were the feel-good story of the year in 2013. With the former series champion behind the wheel, Furniture Row Racing became the first single-car team in Sprint Cup history to qualify for the Chase.
In the eight years before Busch arrived, Furniture Row Racing cars had compiled a total of 11 top-10s, three top-fives and 48 laps led.
In just one season driving for the team, Busch amassed 16 top-10 finishes with 11 ending inside the top five. He also led 448 laps, which was the seventh-most in the series.
After two seasons driving for underfunded teams, Busch received a contract from Stewart-Haas Racing to drive a fourth car for their operation beginning with the upcoming season.
The move will pay huge dividends for Busch right from the start. After winning at least one race every year from 2002 through 2011, Busch has gone winless each of the last two seasons.
That streak will come to an abrupt end driving for his new team.
Stewart-Haas cars have won a total of 19 events in five years of competition. Busch will surely add to that total in 2014.
Aside from race wins, Busch will also have the opportunity to compete for the series championship in 2014. While his Cinderella regular season in 2013 was good enough to earn a spot in the Chase, his chances of contending for the title were minimal at best.
Driving for a team with seemingly unlimited funds and copious amounts of resources, Busch is instantly thrust toward the forefront of the championship discussion.
In 13 full-time seasons, Busch has finished in the top 10 of the championship standings six times. He is the first series champion under the Chase format and has three career wins in the postseason.
Two seasons removed from his unfortunate parting with Penske Racing, Busch has earned the right to be back with a top-tier team. His on-track performance in 2013 is proof of the immense talent he possesses. Off the track, he managed to do enough to earn the trust of sponsors once again.
He may not enter the season as a championship favorite, and he may not end the season by winning it, but, rest assured, Kurt Busch will be a contender in 2014 after spending the last two seasons patiently waiting for one more opportunity to associate himself with a top-tier organization.
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