Kurt Busch And His Impending Free Agency

I think it’s interesting that in the days following Kurt Busch’s dominating win at Atlanta, nobody is talking about how this guy is at the end of his contract.  Following the 2009 season, Kurt Busch will be a free agent.  And wouldn’t you know it, four races into his final season under his current deal, Busch is third in points.

Since an ugly divorce with Roush Racing following the 2005 season, Busch just hasn’t been the same driver.  In 184 starts with Roush, he compiled 14 wins, 43 top fives, and won a Cup championship.  He had an average finish of 17.4 and won, on average, once every 13 races.

With Penske Racing, Kurt has 112 starts, five wins, 20 top fives, and has only made one Chase (2007).  His average finish with Penske is 18.5, and he has won once every 22 races.

All these stats show a dropoff in performance from Roush to Penske.  And nobody knows that better then Busch himself.

In his three-plus seasons with Penske, there have been times where the stress of his team’s non-performance has boiled over into Busch lashing out on the team radio.  He’s been heard asking if he could get out of a poor handling car during a race and saying that Penske didn’t know what they were doing.

On top of his own words, there have been rumors at various times over the last three years that Busch was unhappy at Penske and looking to get out.  Now, he just might get his chance.

In sports, there sometimes appears to be a phenomenon that happens when an athlete is in the final year of their contract.  The player magically has a career year, earns a big contract, then returns to their previous performance.  See more here.  Is this happening currently with Busch?  Maybe so.

Through four races in 2009, Busch has an average finish of 9.8 including the Atlanta win, and is third in the standings.  While I think some of this can be attributed to performance gains by the team, I believe Kurt may be driving like a man possessed.  A man motivated to get a new contract with a different organization.

This becomes even more curious when you compare the performance of the other two Penske teams.  So far this season, Sam Hornish has made modest performance gains over the same four races last season, but David Stremme has not matched Ryan Newman’s finishes in the 12 car.  So again, is Penske making strides with the COT, or is Kurt Busch up on the wheel?

There are just a few other things I’d like to mention here.  First, before this weekend’s win, I heard from someone that Busch continues to be unhappy at Penske.  The win may have helped the situation, but then again, maybe not.  Second, if Busch was looking at being a Penske driver long term, why hasn’t he signed an extension yet?  I know other drivers, like Carl Edwards, have waited until their contract year to sign extensions, but the question still remains.

It will be interesting to see, as the season progresses, if Busch and the #2 team can continue to be successful and if rumors start to emerge about a possible departure.  It is still way too early to be talking about Silly Season, but Busch will certainly be one to keep an eye on in 2009.

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19 Responses to “Kurt Busch And His Impending Free Agency”

  1. rivensky says:

    I had forgotten he was coming up on the end of his contract. I just can’t decide whether or not I can see Kurt staying with Penske. If it was coming up a year or two ago I could DEFINITELY see him packing up and getting the heck out of Dodge. (Pun intended. :D) My gut instinct says that he won’t stay, which of course brings up the question of where he may go. I’m not sure if any of the seats that would possibly be available would be of an interest to him. So I just don’t know. I think the 5 is pretty much already Brad’s plus I don’t think Hendrick would be interested in another Busch. Harking back to your article about Mears, it could be possible that he might land in the 07. Again, too early to know what’ll go down. Definitely thought provoking.

  2. Robyn says:

    Based on T.C.’s theory, here are the other drivers to watch the rest of the year since their contracts are up this year:
    David Reutimann, Martin Truex, Jr., David Ragan*, Jamie McMurray*, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya?, and Brian Vickers.

    *Ragan and McMurray are likely fighting for their chance to remain at Roush.

  3. Steve C says:

    Hummmm, Interesting, Any of the rides coming up I can not see Kurt going for. Roush has to down size so that team will go to yates. I Can’t see him going to MWR, mears has a three year deal, DEI well I can’t see diving into those waters. RCR will resign Harvick. I see RBR as a possibility, but that would depend on their preformance. So no I don’t see him leaving penske unless some super offer comes into play.

  4. T.C. says:

    Robyn: I think there is a difference between the drivers you mentioned and Kurt Busch though. Except for some rumblings about Truex last year with the Ganassi/DEI thing, you haven’t really heard anything about these drivers wanting out. I think Vickers, Montoya, and Harvick will all resign no problem. I think you are right about McMurray and Ragan fighting for the fourth spot at Roush, but that fifth team will just move to Yates. If Reutimann continues to improve, I can’t see MWR not bringing him back. Truex’s situation could also be interesting though. I think whether he stays or leaves will depend on how good EGR is this season.

  5. Nila says:

    Interesting column today, TC. But I can see why Kurt has not signed an extension yet. He’s waiting to see if the Penske group’s performance equates to more than just an early season aberration as well as not limiting his options too early in the game. And while the equipment at Penske may or may not have improved, I am a firm believer in the oft-used racing phrase “It’s all about the people”. As a Newman follower, I can certainly understand Kurt’s position — been there, done that. Hope KB figures out what is best for him without too much stress and strain. It will not be an easy decision.

  6. Neon says:

    Based on Montoya’s long standing relationship w/ Chip, JPM will be at EGR or no where in stock cars. If the FEDs were smart and Helio Castroneves is found guilty in his tax evasion case, they should sentence him, not to prison, but to run CUP and repay owed back-taxes w/ 100% of his winnings to the taxpayers…instead of locking him up and costing taxpayer $. He surely would make more in CUP than IRL and already has a couple of Indy wins. A couple of Brickyards titles and we’re even!

  7. [...] Busch’s impending free agency. From this article: Kurt Busch And His Impending Free Agency | The Nascar Insiders [...]

  8. Grumpyoldman says:

    As the world’s only Kurt Busch fan…I can only hope he can find a seat at a better team, but where? Not at Hendick, yuck. Can’t go back to Rousch, and Gibbs is full.
    And who is Miller loyal to, Busch or Penske? It’s all about what the sponsor wants these days.
    The best thing may be to just cross our fingers and hope Penske is finally figuring these cars out better.

  9. Savannah says:

    Speaking of Martin Truex, do you think that it might be possible that he would move to Stewart Hass Racing at the end of the year? The sponsor, Bass Pro, has a good relationship with Tony Stewart and some of the silly season rumors indicated that Truex was under consideration as one of the drivers. Granted, those were only rumors. Just wanted to know your opinion.

  10. Linda Maxon says:

    As a DIE HARD Rusty Wallace fan, I would personally be thrilled beyond words if Kurt Busch left Penske. Then I could prously wear all my Miller Lite #2 gear without having to elaborate with “the REAL Miller Lite Dodge Blue Deuce, not the Kurt Busch version”!

  11. dylan says:

    4th gibbs driver.

  12. Bobby#7fan says:

    Kurt used to be the driver I hated most. Along came his little brother and took my most hated driver spot from Kurt. I know he has matured as a driver and as a person, and i respect that. His fights with Jimmy Spencer were legendary, we need more of that in Nascar.

    I think he will stay with Penske, they seem to be moving in a positive direction as a team and there are no better options available. Then again, I highly doubt that Mears will last his full contract at RCR, and if Jr. does not get a new crew chief and improve greatly he needs to be fired from Hendrick.

    There will be more open seats at the eng of the year than we realize, it always happens.

  13. Kayla says:

    This makes it seem like you think Kurt was slacking for the past seasons at Penske. You don’t just forget how to drive. Kurt really doesn’t have to prove that he has talent to potential owners.

  14. Rick says:

    Interesting early silly season stuff. My prediction is Truex and Bass Pro to SHR and Kurt to EGR. If that happens it could also lead to Jamie Mc moving over to Penske if they will take him. He has been one of the under achievers after his grand entry as a Ganassi fill in.

  15. ATG says:

    I agree Kurt could be looking elsewhere after this year, unless his team keeps running this way and runs for the championship the entire season.

    I’m not sure where his contract is with MWR but I could see Reutimann winnning a few races with a team like Gibbs or RCR (just a thought).

  16. The Old guy says:

    You’ve left out the possibility that Kurt could join Kyle at JGR.

    I think a smart move for both if it happened

  17. Zieke says:

    Kurt & Kyle on the same race team? I don’t think so. It is going to be interesting to see if Hamlin can keep his sponsors happy at Gibbs, what with Kyle taking over as the Hot Shoe there. I’m sure Kurt does not want to compete w/ Kyle in the same equipment. It seems that Kurt would be real happy to stay at Penske if he can go out & earn the big contract. Looks like the Dodge engines they’re using have helped alot already, and the chassis seem to be coming along too. Stay with the Captain Kurt. He does’nt like to lose, and has the wherewithall to win races. The only question is if Dodge will be able to help their teams enough after this awful auto sales year.

  18. Scott says:

    I been a KB fan since he came on the scene with Rousch in the 97 Rubbermaid/Sharpie car. Kurt has proven that with quality equipment, he can run up front and win any race. The years at Penske, he was the second driver behind Ryan Newman, while Newman got the very best equipment, as he should have, Kurt had to make due with what he had. Kurt may be running in a contract year, but he also has the best equipment and team in the Penske garage. Look for Kurt to stay with Penske and make a serious run for the championship.

  19. PJ says:

    I think its safe to say at this juncture that “the Captain” (Roger Penske) Has righted the ship and KB isnt going anywhere.

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