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Auto racing: Kurt Busch takes new run at success with new team

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 12:22 a.m. CDT
Driver Kurt Busch speaks during NASCAR media day Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Busch is embarking on another season with yet another team.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kurt Busch had another date with a tow truck.

Nah, not to take away one of his wrecked cars.

Busch had some fun with Mater, the rusty, bucktoothed tow truck and cartoon star of “Cars,” on a trip this week to Disney World.

Busch playfully stretched the back of his collar to act like he was hooked to Mater’s cable. With his tongue out, the picture on his Twitter feed was a lighthearted snapshot at Busch’s off-track life, chilling with his girlfriend and her son and smiling alongside Mater and Lightning McQueen.

It’s the kind of aw-shucks personality so many in NASCAR would like to see from Busch.

Busch’s talent has never been doubted, with 24 career Cup wins and the 2004 championship etched on his resume.

But his prickly personality has cost him major rides and deep-pocketed sponsors, and turned him into a journeyman driver at only 34. His 2013 ride with Furniture Row Racing is his third team in three seasons, and no one would confuse last season’s underfunded spin with Phoenix Racing with his previous heavyweight stints with Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

“Kurt’s one of the best drivers out there,” Phoenix owner James Finch said. “I didn’t say he was the best person.”

Busch’s propensity for wrecking cars – about two dozen by Finch’s count – his outbursts at the media and dust-ups with other drivers were more than Finch could handle.

When Busch had the chance to finish last season with Furniture Row, Finch let him walk away from Phoenix.

Busch’s aggressive driving followed him to Denver-based Furniture Row. He wrecked the No. 78 Chevrolet during Daytona 500 practice last week and was collected in a costly crash in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited the next night. His team was getting assistance from Richard Childress Racing on car repairs to ensure Busch gets to Sunday’s Daytona 500, where he qualified a solid 11th.

After only two top 10s with Phoenix, Busch had two eighth-place finishes and a ninth over his final three races last season with Furniture Row.

“I think we’re a B-plus program right now, as is,” Busch said. “What we’re able to do with a smaller team is navigate through the waters more quickly.”

Busch loved talking about the perks of racing for his new team. Busch said Furniture Row is fully committed to having a strong season, with checkered flag expectations. Maybe this is the season Busch answers his wake-up call and races his way back to an elite level.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there, and he’s got to make the most of it,” Kyle Busch said.

For the partnership to really work, Busch knows he has to keep his cool and stay out of the NASCAR hauler. Busch is seeing a sports psychologist.

“There’s so many situations that come up these days, so many hats that you have to wear as a driver, that when you work through those situations, they can teach you things to pick up very easily, to bring out the best in yourself,” Busch said. “It’s just another tool in the toolbox. It’s like a heavier hammer at some points.”

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