2012 is about knocking the rough edges off for Kurt Busch

Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
A bully, an entitled crybaby, a driver with more talent than brains, a man with no manners and a chip on his shoulder a mile wide, a sore loser, a has-been; these are all phrases that have been used to describe Kurt Busch since his blow up at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Known for his short temper and frequent outbursts Busch’s behavior isn’t something new. It’s been going on for years, but that’s not to say he hasn’t learned from his latest mistake. In fact, the Busch we’ve seen this week during Preseason Thunder has been the exact opposite of the driver who made waves on YouTube and had his face plastered on the front of the sports section. This Kurt Busch is a man who actually looks like he is having fun instead of putting on a show for the cameras.

Headed into Daytona for the 12th year, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion is embarking into uncharted territory. Gone are the flashy firesuits and haulers, the big-name race teams on his side; they have been replaced by an underfunded team that gets their engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports and has only a handful of employees on the payroll. James Finch’s Phoenix Racing is a far cry from the places he’s called home during his career.

Although Busch may be considered an underdog given the equipment and funding his No. 51 team has, you’d never know it based on the remarks he made on Friday. Speaking about getting the team together at the last minute and preparing to head south for testing, Busch remarked, “To do the testing with James Finch and this Phoenix Racing Group, it's just been pure joy. It's been a lot of fun to work with a small group of guys and thrash on just getting the car to the hauler to get the hauler down here on time, and just how everybody on the team is just walking on cloud nine right now with the excitement.”

Since the announcement that Busch would join the Finch team, critics have pointed out that he’s not likely to win behind the wheel of one of their cars frequently, if at all. But according to Busch, 2012 isn’t about racking up the checkered flags. It’s about putting the joy back in racing, something he felt he lost in the last few years. Busch went on to say that the story of the last few months isn’t what he would want his grandchildren to define him by and that this season is about “…getting back to old-school racing, having fun with it, the pressure is not there.”

Whether he’s sitting in the car wringing his hands in anticipation for the window net to go up or climbing under it to see if he can spot a problem, Kurt Busch appears to be a changed man. Is his anger issue gone? Has working with a sports psychologist helped? Only time will tell how the difference a few months made in his life, but if the news coming out of Florida this week is any indication, Busch may have in fact found the joy of racing again.

"I've got to understand what it takes to be a competitive driver and to harness that fire in my belly the right way and to put it together in a 2004-style effort. When things are going smooth, this is a tough freight train to stop. When things are going rough, that's what I have to polish up on and knock the rough edges off,” said Busch.

One thing is for sure: 2012 will be the season where we truly learn the depth of his talent and his ability to face adversity.
2012 is about knocking the rough edges off for Kurt Busch 2012 is about knocking the rough edges off for Kurt Busch Reviewed by Katy Lindamood on Friday, January 13, 2012 Rating: 5