Speed Zone: Monster Energy Signing Completes Busch’s Renaissance; Opens Doors for Haas

Jacob Seelman Carolinas Racing, Featured, Jacob Seelman Blog, MidSouth, Midwest, NASCAR, New England, Northeast, Plains, Southeast, Staff Columns, West 0 Comments

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for SHR photo —

The turnaround is finally complete for Kurt Busch.

After a tumultuous four year period in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that included a departure from Team Penske (for a verbal tirade against then-ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch), drives for single-car operations Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing, a move to Stewart Haas Racing at the dawn of the 2014 season and a suspension for the first three races of the 2015 season (stemming from allegations of domestic violence by ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll where charges were eventually dropped), Busch looked like the driver that won the 2004 Sprint Cup title on Wednesday afternoon during a special Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) press conference.

He looked calm, he looked content, and he looked to be at peace with where he is once again in both his NASCAR career and his life away from the race track.

He was also a driver with a long-term primary sponsor for the first time since leaving Penske’s No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil car at the end of 2011, after Monster Energy announced at the gathering they would be stepping up to a full-time co-primary role with Busch’s No. 41 team beginning in 2016.

This was not ‘The Outlaw’, the Kurt Busch that made a name for himself off of run-ins with the media and three separate suspensions over the course of his Sprint Cup career. No, this was the Kurt Busch that onlookers, fans and media members alike always knew was possible — it just took him a long and rocky road to get there.

2015 has been a career renaissance for the 37-year-old driver from Las Vegas, Nev. He has scored two wins for SHR this season and sits third in the current Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff standings with five races remaining in the year. There have been no major outbursts, no conflicts necessitating NASCAR action since his return to the cockpit at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

It has also been a renaissance away from the track for the veteran star. Busch announced his engagement to polo player Ashley Van Metre in late August, and looks to have put all the chaos of the dropped allegations and domestic violence conversations stemming from Driscoll behind him.

For all intents and purposes, Kurt Busch would appear a changed man.

You could hear it in his tone of voice and see it in his visual excitement about what is to come at SHR — this is a driver that knows where he has been, where he fell to and where he is rising again.

“I’m very happy to be back with Stewart-Haas Racing and proud to take Monster Energy to the Sprint Cup Series,” Busch said. “This is exactly where I want to be and I have two partners who want to win as much as I do. It’s a tremendous day, because to me, this has been a fantastic year both statistics-wise and behind the wheel. There’s been so much support from everyone on the team, that to feel the love, the camaraderie and this passion to win — it’s really a dream come true.”

Fans and drivers alike could see the dream in 2004, when Busch was one of the hottest commodities in the sport — fresh off his Cup title and carrying a sponsorship deal with Rubbermaid Products and Sharpie at Roush Fenway Racing. Today, it began to feel as though that dream is returning again.

A primary sponsor carries a lot of weight to a driver and team. It is a sign of a company’s belief in that driver, both in the talent they possess and in their ability to market the brands they are representing to the highest level. For a period, that was not the category that Kurt Busch fell into.

His outbursts and volatility put him in situations where he had to drive for the teams and owners that would take him, often with an owner who would foot the bill out of their own pocket because they believed in his talent and saw him as a commodity in the sport despite his often-unpredictable actions.

We saw it with with the underfunded Phoenix team in 2012, the No. 51 fielded by longtime car owner James Finch; we saw it in 2013 with Barney Visser and the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 car for Busch’s year-long (and Chase-caliber) tenure with the Colorado-based team; we’ve seen it again the past two seasons with Gene Haas, Tony Stewart and the quickly-iconic Haas Automation No. 41 Chevrolet.

Haas took a leap of faith in signing Busch prior to 2014, saying he “brought Busch to Stewart Haas Racing to win races,” and Busch promptly went out and delivered on that request. The pairing seemed perfect — two people with a desire to win above all else teaming up to do just that. So far, it has been, and that philosophy has fulfilled Haas’ ultimate goal with the program: to build the team and driver into an entity that sponsors would see as valuable once again.

Now, Kurt Busch and that No. 41 team are just that, valuable. They are a race-winning combination and have the capability to contend for championships year-in and year-out. If they weren’t, Monster Energy would not have jumped onboard with the group in the capacity that they are for the upcoming years. It’s a value and a shine that hasn’t been truly seen since Kurt’s last days at Team Penske, and it appears to only be growing stronger as Stewart Haas Racing continues to rise.

To that end, I say:  Welcome back, Kurt Busch.

It’s been a while, but it’s great to see the championship sparkle back in one of NASCAR’s gutsiest and fearless competitors.

Now, keep in mind, this sponsorship deal is not only good for Busch, it is good for Haas as well. With the signing of Monster Energy, it allows for less of Haas Automation’s funds to have to be pumped into the NASCAR side of Haas’ operation — opening the door for some of that cash flow to be potentially utilized for the upstart of Haas’ new Formula One team, which is debuting in 2016.

Haas is a skilled businessman. He knows that much of his focus, time and efforts will be needed on that side of the operation in 2015 and the extra funding opened by Monster Energy’s shouldering of a portion of the NASCAR budget for 2016 will likely allow for exactly that, as he looks to springboard into the points with his confirmed lead driver, Franco-Swiss veteran Romain Grosjean, and the anticipated arrival of Mexico’s Esteban Gutierrez.

This could be a very positive move on multiple fronts for SHR, Haas F1 and all the people involved in the two teams.

For right now, though, it is — as Busch said — a tremendous day indeed.

Or perhaps, if you will, a monster day for all involved.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.

 

About the Writer

Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.

The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.

Email Jacob at: speed77radio@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @Speed77Radio or @JacobSeelman77

Follow Race Chaser Online: @RaceChaserNews

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