2012-01-05 / Sports

Kurt Busch Joins Phoenix Racing

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

Kurt Busch will start off the 2012 Cup season as driver of the No. 51 Chevrolet owned by James Finch.

But that doesn’t mean he will last the full season with Finch’s Phoenix Racing team.

Finch and Busch are practically calling it a match made in heaven, but unless Busch is able to straighten up and control his emotional outbursts, it could turn out to be a hellish ride.

Why?

Finch is cut out of the same material as Richard Childress. Remember how Childress walloped Kurt’s brother, Kyle, in 2011? Finch is not above doing the same.

Finch told a reporter from radio station WHJG in Lynn Haven, Fla., that he hired Kurt Busch for his foot and not his mouth.

“He (Kurt Busch) lost a job and several million dollars,” said Finch. “I think that’s been a wake-up call. I told him, ‘I said Kurt, it’s about winning races.”

“Hopefully we can get him controlled. He’s got a long way to come. He’s got to show people he’s going to be a driver.”

“And show NASCAR that he’s going to do what’s expected as a driver.”

Finch and his South Carolina based, moderate-budget team has only 18 employees and gets its engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports. They ran the full 2011 schedule and finished 30th in owner points. Crew chief Nick Harrison didn’t get any poles, wins, top-fives or top-10s from drivers Landon Cassill, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, or Mike Bliss.

Finch has run at least a partial Cup schedule for 18 years after one season in the Nationwide Series. All told, Phoenix Racing has 13 NASCAR wins, including the 2009 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway with Brad Keselowski. It has one Camping World Truck Series start, 530 starts in the Nationwide Series (12 wins) and 191 starts in Cup (one win). The team has used 45 drivers since its NASCAR debut in 1990.

Despite not being one of NASCAR’s star teams, Finch is well respected and has helped several drivers break into NASCAR. He simply has not had the big sponsors needed to fund his efforts. Practically all the team’s money comes from Phoenix Construction, his own company.

“James has always had pretty stout cars for the restrictor plate races, and I know we’ll be very competitive at Daytona,” said Busch, who won this year’s Budweiser Shootout and a 150- mile Daytona 500 qualifying race. “We’ll participate in the Jan. 12-14 test to get a good handle on our Daytona 500 car but also to win another Budweiser Shootout. Christmas came early for me this year, and I honestly can’t wait for the season to begin.”

“We’re going to have fun. It’s going to be old-school racing, where we show up, race hard and go for the win. And if we don’t win, we’ll go back to the shop, work hard and do it all over again next week. That’s the way we all started racing and it’s great to get back to that. After entertaining a lot of quality offers, there’s no better place for me.”

Kurt and brother Kyle may be their own worst enemies, but no one can deny that they are racers who have the talent to win races and championships yar in and year out.

If Kurt can take advantage of his past mistakes, and Finch’s team gets a couple breaks on the track, both driver and owner will benefit.

But if things go sour, I don’t believe James Finch would hesitate to use his “boot power.”

Ragan, Reutimann, and Vickers still out

David Ragan, David Reutimann, and Brian Vickers have yet to find a Cup ride for next year.

Each driver has won races at the Cup level. Yet, it looks as if they will each go into the 2012 season as outsiders.

Ragan was cut at Roush Fenway Racing when that company reduced its numbers from four full- time teams to three, due to a lack of sponsors.

Reutimann won a race in each of the 2009 and 2010 seasons for Michael Waltrip Racing. And strangely enough, his team actually expanded rather than downsizing during the off season. However, new drivers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin were brought into the fold, which pushed Reutimann out.

Waltrip and Martin will split time in car No. 55, which is the same car Reutimann drove last year.

Brian Vicker’s ride at Team Red Bull simply went away when that organization closed up shop at the end of the 2011 season. However, he did not help himself throughout the season by having run-ins on the track with drivers Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.

Vickers, who has two Sprint Cup wins to his credit, was apparently not on the radar screen of any major team or sponsor during the off season. His name was rarely mentioned as a potential driver for any vacant ride.

Meanwhile veteran driver Geoff Bodine, at age 62, made some type of comeback this past season, competing in four Sprint Cup races with sponsorship from Luke & Associates.

Bodine has sponsorship for a minimum of 15 Sprint Cup races next season. He said he and his sponsor are not just shopping this deal around to teams but instead want a partnership.

“They are serious about it, and they want some ownership with a team,” Bodine said. “A little bit this year (2012), and next season a little bit more. We’ve got a lot of data from different teams and we’re looking through it so that we can try to make the best decision, business-wise and performance wise.”

Bodine said while it won’t be a top-tier team, it will be a competitive team that already runs multiple cars. Bodine said a deal would be completed before New Year’s.

Depending on the team deal, Bodine could race fewer than 15 events himself or even a full season if more sponsors come aboard. Driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing this year, Bodine had a best finish of 30th in his four starts.

Racing trivia question: Which year did Kurt Busch win the Sprint Cup championship?

Last week’s question: Car owner James Finch has one Cup victory, which came at Talladega. Who was his driver?

Answer. Brad Keselowski.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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