Season Review: Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch endured a frustrating Chase, with three finishes worse than 30th in the final five races. (Photo: Getty Images)


The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was truly a new beginning with the creation of a new championship points system. Points weren’t the only factor that made 2011 a new beginning for Kurt Busch.

“With Shell/Pennzoil and Dodge, it was great to have a new sponsor come aboard like they did,” Busch said of the sponsor move that led to his transfer from the seat of his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge into the cockpit of Roger Penske’s new No. 22 Charger.

Busch won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race in his first two outings for his new sponsor. The momentum continued with a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500, followed by three more top-10 results. A seventh-place finish moved him into the Sprint Cup points lead.

That’s when Busch’s “New Beginning” began to turn sour. He finished 14th or worse in six of the next seven races, and 22nd or worse in two of those. Busch then rebounded with six straight top-14 finishes before finally breaking through again on the west coast.

“Winning at Sonoma for me was a brilliant weekend for us,” Busch recalls. “To hone your skills on a road course and finally get a victory is really satisfying for me and the team.

“It was the first real victory for Shell and Pennzoil. We won at Daytona in the Shootout and Duels, but to win at Sonoma and give people a chance to get 22 cents off a gallon of fuel, which was a big moment.”

Busch made the Chase ranked seventh after the points were reset. He opened the “second season” with a 6th-place finish after leading 64 laps at Chicagoland. He led 90 laps at Dover to take his second win of the season.

Busch went on to finish the Chase with four finishes worse than 20th in four of the last five races. Three of those races had finishes worse than 30th, including a 34th place result in the season finale at Homestead.

"I've never been so disappointed in my life,” Busch says. “I think I missed a race once my rookie year and this almost tops that."

Busch heads into the off season with questions about what changes might be made to his team before Speedweeks 2012 in Daytona. His crew chief, Steve Addington, departed Penske Racing this week.  He's been a prominent name in the garage rumor mill, with speculation on what team he might join next season.

Busch's difficult 2011 season didn't come to an end when the checkered flag flew at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Five days after the finale, NASCAR assessed a $50,000 fine for the usual "actions detrimental to stock car racing."  The sanctioning body cited an obscene hand gesture from Busch while entering the garage area after his transmission failed.  That incident preceeded an obscenity laced confrontation aimed at ESPN lead pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch.  Both Busch and Penske Racing officials issued apologies for the incident earlier this week.

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