Kurt Busch drove the race of his life Sunday at Sonoma.
Starting the race in eighth, Busch slowly but surely made his way up through the pack both on the track and with pit strategy. By the time mid-race rolled around, the elder Busch was solidly inside the top-five and turning some of the fastest laps of the race.
Before long, Busch found himself in contention for the win, battling Clint Bowyer who dominated the 110 lap event.
After suffering damage to the car while trying to take the lead, Busch’s car was no match for Bowyer on the green-white-checkered restart, finishing the race in the third position.
Normally, a driver would be disappointed coming so close and not winning. Some would rather crash trying to win rather than being able to see the winner in their front windshield when the checkered flag comes out.
That wasn’t the case for Busch at Sonoma.
“When you show up and you’re on a third of the budget and you almost bring it to victory lane, you can’t say that one guy does it out here. It takes a full team effort. But I really want to deliver for my guys today, and being that close, and make one mistake, it’s a tough game.”
Busch, who won the Toyota/ Save Mart 350 last season with Penske Racing in the dominant fashion like Bowyer, didn’t even take part in the two practice sessions on Saturday. Instead, he was in Elkhart Lake, WI racing for his brother’s Nationwide Series team at Road America.
” It’s definitely not the driver. You know, a lot of thanks has to go to Penske Racing and the commitment that they gave to me to help me on road courses and all of the testing we did to arrive at this point; I can’t pat myself on the back too much. But there was a car on the front row with my setup from last year, and there was a 48 car out there with my setup.”
To say the 2012 season has been a struggle for Busch would be an understatement.
Opening up the season at Daytona and crashing four cars during the course of Speed Weeks was not the start Busch and his new Phoenix Racing team had in mind.
From there, the team began to show speed. But putting complete races together was the missing link from finishing races where they ran.
Then came the Talladega weekend where Busch played the role of Ricky Bobby, driving a car that was portrayed in the popular film Talladega Nights.
While they were able to run towards the front for the majority of that race, a spin in the late stages relegated the team to a mid-pack result.
Running inside the top-10 all night at Darlington, Busch was poised for his best result of the season. Contact late in the race but Busch’s car into the wall, then all hell broke loose.
A post-race confrontation with members of Ryan Newman’s No.39 pit crew had Busch placed on probation by NASCAR.
After the Nationwide race at Dover a few weeks later, Busch threatened a reporter during a post-race interview. NASCAR then suspended Busch for the following Cup race at Pocono and placed him on probation through the end of 2012.
Through all of the turmoil, Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch elected to bring Busch back to drive his car.
” They bring the best out in me. This is a no nonsense group for a bunch of racers. The way this program feels is we are a bunch of boy scouts where we have to support each other and teach each other things and everybody has three jobs on this team,” said Busch.
” Yeah, the closest family atmosphere I’ve ever had to racing with Kyle and my dad. We are not blood brothers or anything and cut fingers and touch and go Team Tiger Blood or anything, but it’s really a neat group. Nick’s[ Harrison, crew chief] leadership is just so much fun just to follow him and be a part of.”
For Busch, getting his crew what he feels like they deserve after their hard work is what he takes away from his day at Sonoma.
” You’re that close you and want to deliver. To have a wounded car like that, I had to yield to Tony. I didn’t want to get up into the loose gravel and lose a bunch of spots.
” So it’s a great day for Phoenix Racing and James Finch who gave me this opportunity; he’s like, “The hell with that road racing stuff, I ain’t even going out to California
“So it’s great to surprise him with a nice top three finish out here.”