Busches reflect on bounce-back season

They were in the same room Thursday, and that meant something.

That ballroom at Wynn Las Vegas was reserved for media interviews with the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers, and the Busch brothers couldn’t be there last year.

Both returned to their hometown for NASCAR Champions Week, both back in their accustomed spots near the top, a bounce-back season for each.

The journey back was even longer for Kurt Busch, who was fired by Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season. After one year at Phoenix Racing, he then led Denver-based Furniture Row Racing to a 10th-place finish this season, the first single-car team to make the playoffs since NASCAR instituted the Chase in 2004. And now Kurt Busch is back in the big leagues with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Kyle Busch missed out on the Chase last year, but not only made the field of 13 drivers this season, he finished a career-best fourth.

For Kurt Busch, he had what he called one of his top five seasons. The 2004 series champion began his comeback at Furniture Row Racing, the overlooked team in the Rocky Mountains’ shadow.

He found himself there after a series of controversies exiled him from NASCAR’s elite, forcing Kurt Busch to compete on teams with about as much chance to win as a third-party candidate in a national election.

But he surprisingly was competitive at Furniture Row, placing in the top five 11 times, his second-highest total. He led his team into the Chase with a late-season push by finishing fourth at Atlanta and second at Richmond.

“Atlanta and Richmond were the two most important races, I think, in Furniture Row’s history,” Kurt Busch said. “It was a very successful campaign. I couldn’t be happier. I wanted to win for the guys. We didn’t win, but we basically doubled every category of statistics.”

As much fun as it was to guide the single-car team, Kurt Busch is happy to be back in the big leagues with Stewart-Haas. It feeds into his competitive nature, but being with the new team does even more than that.

It also gives Kurt Busch a realistic chance to win another title.

“I now have to step into the Stewart-Haas expectations of being a champion driver, a race winner, and competing against Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick in house as well as against the other Chase drivers,” Kurt Busch said. “So that’s the new step for me and my next challenge.”

Kyle Busch didn’t have such a long climb back, but one year outside the playoffs was more than enough to tolerate.

Reaching the Chase never was a question this season as he won four races and finished in the top five 16 times.

He might even have contended for the championship if not for crashing twice at Kansas and finishing 34th in that race.

“It was a great season,” Kyle Busch said. “We were very competitive. I wish it could’ve turned out better, but until Kansas Speedway’s not a part of the Chase, I’m not sure how that’s going to work.”

He did win the owners championship for the second time in four years in the NASCAR World Camping Truck Series, and the focus of Kyle Busch Motorsports will go on that team after a lack of financial support forced the organization to close its Nationwide Series team.

“I think it’s best for us to just stick to the Truck Series and what we’ve done there and maybe venture a little bit into the K&N (Pro) Series,” Kyle Busch said. “But as far as Nationwide, if you look beyond Penske and Gibbs, there are not a whole lot of teams that are able to compete and win races on a weekly basis.

“So it’s not viable for us, and there’s not enough money in the world to build the infrastructure that those teams already have from a Cup organization to make a Nationwide Series organization successful. So economically it absolutely makes no sense.”

Even as disappointing as ending that team was, Kyle Busch was happy to be back in the room Thursday.

Back in the champions room.

Back with his brother.

“As this sport enjoys different color and different excitement, the Busch brothers in the Chase is something exciting,” Kurt Busch said. “We were proud of our efforts this year, but we both want more.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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