By John "Dawg" Chapman
OK, by now if you were interested, you've probably read several
different takes on what the immediate future might hold for Kurt.
Being as this is kind of a 'slow news' time. I figured I might as well weigh
in, stick my neck (not too far) out, & give you my thoughts on this.
I've read numerous speculations about next season. Everything from his
winning, to even making the Chase.
Can he win? Sure he can, anyone can. Trevor Bayne, & Bad Brad have
proven that. Brad in James Finch's car, no less. Kind of ironic that this
was the first step, leading to his hiring by Penske. that lead to his
breakout season, that in all probability, lead to Kurt's "mutual" parting
with Team Penske & his ending up with Finch.
Kind of reminds me of the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt,
that lay in the house, that Jack built. As he'd previously also been
fired from the house that Jack built. It does sort of tie together, doesn't
it? But I digress.
My unequivocal, 100% iron clad answer to both of these scenarios is
definitely.... maybe, on the winning. But I doubt it. As for the second
part, no way Jose. Just look at the cars that couldn't even give that a
good shot in '11, with a lot more going for them.
Seriously, here's what I do see happening, & needing to happen. If this is
going to be the season that he repairs his image, & starts his move back
up the ladder.
To this point in his career, he's been in Championship, or at least
consistent, winning cars. He's been used to teams that had full time
pit crews. Crews who's only job is to hone their over the wall skills,
& pit the car.
With Crew Chef's that had worked their way up through the ranks
to become CCs on top cars. Engineers, shock specialists, etc,etc, etc.
With his current team he doesn't have that luxury.
Much has been made of the fact that the team gets it's equipment from
Hendrick, just like Stewart-Haas. While the first part is true, I seriously
doubt the just like Tony, part. As Hillary's book pointed out. In Africa,
It takes a village, to raise a child. Well in Cup, It takes a team, to field
a car. I do have to wonder about the current strength of the team that
I'll have to admit that I don't know very much about Nick Harrison, his
current CC. His Cup record is not very impressive,( nor are his meager
Nationwide stats.) Actually, it's about what you'd expect for a car that
up to this time has been basically a field filler operation. Nick wasn't
CC, when Brad won with this team. He's has had 47 starts, over 2
With 0 top 5, 0 T-10, finishes, 0 poles, & only 11 lead lap finishes.
With an average finishing position of 29th, last year. While finishing
30th in owners points. This could very well not be as much a reflection
on his abilities, as much as the circumstances he's found himself in.
They had 26 finishes of 25th or worse. This is for sure going to
improve. Just how much improvement we see depends on more than
James has already made a big change, by putting Kurt in the car. I think
now, & I do mean NOW, he needs to look at every one in the organization,
top, to bottom. With the shrinkage going on in the Cup, & Nationwide
garages, some very good people are available. With fewer people, each, &
every one needs to be the best he can get. He very well might already have
them, that's for him to decide.
Kurt has repeatedly stated that he wants' to have fun racing. While I've
obviously never been exposed to racing at this level, I doubt that it's
meant to be fun. While I'm sure it can be fun at times. It's also pressure
packed, & the way he's dealt with that pressure, is in large part what got
him where he is. Anyone who thinks that he won't be under much pressure
with this team, isn't looking at the big picture. He really can't afford any
cracks in his composure next season, & it's a very long season.
Marty Robbins, used to do it for fun, but that was another time,
& he had a pretty good day job to fall back on.
If he really wants to have fun, then perhaps he needs to buy a dirt late
model, & go be the big duck, in some little puddle.
Let's hope his work with a sports psychologist, wasn't just damage control.
But, a serious attempt to get at the root causes that brought on his
problems. Because he's going to have a lot of new frustrations to
deal with. How he's able to deal with them, will be the difference between
this being his first step back to where he wants to be, or his current
situation becoming the new reality. So far in both their NASCAR
careers, the Busch Brats, have made 'Busch self control'. into
one of my favorite oxymoron's. Right behind NASCAR credibility.
He's going to need to deal successfully with his issues in public, & treat
the media with respect. Keep his radio conversations, professional.
Then if he wants' to go back to the motor home, & take 'em out on the
crockery, so be it. Pull this off, & I believe he can climb the ladder again,
but it will take some time.
One thing that can be a blessing, or a curse, will be the scrutiny that
Kurt will be under. Handle it correctly, & I believe that the team will
start to pick up some sponsorship. Probably not national companies,
maybe, but small, & mid-sized companies that need the TV exposure
that Kurt, in the 51 car is sure to garner for them. More money, well
spent, should equate to better performance. Once this starts, it should
As far as winning races, this team has proven that it could do it, against
If I were in James's shoes, here's what I'd try. I'd enter a second car for
the plate tracks. David Ragan is a very solid plate driver. I'd hire him for
all 4 plate races. That way Kurt would have a good, experienced, team
mate to work with. As Daytona's the best paying race of the season, if the
second car made the field. That would go a long way to funding it for the
rest of the plate races. A good finish for it would just be icing on the
cake. This should give the best shot at a win. Maybe a long shot,
but not as long as winning the first one was.
I expect that if Kurt, & James were to stay together for say, 3 years.
Then we might see them in the Chase, or at least giving it a good run.
But it's just too big a leap for 1 season.
I'm looking more for steady progress, of the baby steps variety next year.
A move from 30, to 20, in points, with 4-5, T-10 finishes, & maybe a T-5
or 2 would be a very good season, & it's doable.
I wouldn't be surprised if this deal has an escape clause, so that if Kurt
were to get a better offer, he could take it. Who knows, with the pressures
on teams now, that could come before the season's out. Personally, I'd
love to see them stay together. They could be good for each other, but
that's asking a lot.
This whole deal is going to be a real test, for both Kurt, & The team, but
it can be done. One thing I can absolutely guarantee.
It's not all going be fun.