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.