For both Busch Brothers, Kansas Speedway offers an opportunity to right the ship.
|Kurt (51) got off to a rough start at Daytona.|
After parting ways with Penske Racing during the off-season, Kurt Busch made a handshake deal with Phoenix Racing owner James Finch to drive Finch’s potent – but underfunded – Sprint Cup Series Chevrolets this season. He spoke openly of having to lower his competitive expectations, but the results so far have been even less than expected. A series of crashed race cars punctuated the early weeks of Busch’s season, and he now stands 26th in points with just one Top-10 finish to his credit; a ninth at Auto Club Speedway.
This week, Finch confirmed that without an influx of sponsorship, the team may not be able to run all 36 points-counting races, leaving an even darker cloud hanging over the No. 51 Chevrolet.
|Tough start for KBM|
"We're doing more with less," admitted Busch this week. “We get cars, motors and some body support from Hendrick Motorsports, but at the end of the day, it's still what you do with the people you have. (With) only 18 employees, we've got to get the best out of every guy. Every man on this team has three jobs. We've had our struggles this year, but we've (also) had some good moments. The good days are sweeter because of how much harder everyone has to work to get the job done.
"Do we need sponsorship? Absolutely,” admitted Busch this week. “You have to go pretty far back in history to find a team that has contended for wins on a consistent basis without sponsorship. Finch and I are working on some things that will help us, but the search for sponsorship is ongoing. Hopefully, there are companies out there considering our sport and paying attention to what we're accomplishing."
Kurt's troubles continued today in Kansas, with a spin in the track;s fourthg turn sending the No. 51 Chevy for a long slide through the infield grass. No serious damage appeared to be done, but it marked another difficult start to a race weekend. Kyle, meanwhile, topped the speed charts in the most recent practice session, giving hope that the 2012 turnaround could begin this weekend.
Kyle Busch, meanwhile, sits a disappointing 14th in points, with just two Top-10 finishes. He ran sixth in Week Two of the campaign at Phoenix International Raceway, before recording a runner-up finish behind winner Tony Stewart at Auto Club three weeks later. But after suffering only six finishes of 30th or worse all last season, he has two already in 2012, leading many to wonder if he and his M&Ms Toyota team have lost some of the magic they enjoyed in recent seasons.
|Too many days like this for Kurt and Finch|
Rumors of lingering unhappiness between Busch and sponsor M&Ms are just that, rumors. Those close to the driver say, however, that a beefed-up schedule of promotional appearances on behalf of the candy maker – combined with the company’s reported insistence that Busch devote more attention to his Sprint Cup efforts by curtailing his involvement in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – has left the relationship damaged, at best.
The new Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota Racing Development engine alliance has struggled this season, as well, with multiple engine failures slowing Toyota’s competitive effort across the board. JGR’s Nationwide Series program – dominant just a few short years ago – has fallen back to the pack, with drivers and crew members admitting (off the record, of course) that the program has lost its former edge. Sources close to the team say owner Joe Gibbs now spends as much time attending to his fledgling motocross team as the more-established NASCAR operation; a change in focus that has also cost the team speed.
The Kyle Busch Motorsports Nationwide team has also struggled in its inaugural season, with no finish better than eighth place. Crew chief Mike Beam attempted to lower expectations before the season began, pointing out that KBM owned not a single car just 30 days before announcing an ambitious championship campaign with sponsorship from Monster Energy and both Busch brothers sharing time behind the wheel.
Will KBM improve as the season progresses? Absolutely. The funding, resources and personnel are all there to make it so. But at present, both KBM and JGR are struggling to find their competitive footing, making for the most frustrating season of either brother’s career.