OK, we all know how Kurt Busch can be.
Petulant, arrogant, crass, rude – take your pick. We’ve seen ‘em all.
But there is also this: The older Busch brother may have something of an erratic personality, but there is doubt whatsoever that he can flat-out drive a race car.
He has 24 career wins and, while driving for Roush Fenway racing, he won the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
After a rather rancorous split with Roush – “We are through being Kurt Busch’s apologists” – Busch joined Penske Racing, where he won 10 races over six seasons.
When Busch’s tenure with Penske ended, for whatever reasons, the driver from Las Vegas found work with team owner James Finch in 2012.
Finch, a veteran team owner who has always had to deal with lesser funding, felt Busch had enough experience and savvy to give his organization a competitive jolt.
For his part Busch said he was pleased to be with Finch because he was working hand-in-hand, and alongside, Finch’s team members.
But in 29 races Busch compiled just three finishes among the top 10 and had a whopping six DNFs.
And Busch, not accustomed to such mediocre performances became, well, the same ol’ Busch.
Late in the season it all boiled over. Finch and Busch split. Let’s say it ended badly.
For the last six races of the 2012 season, Busch raced with Barney Visser and his Furniture Row Racing team, again an under-financed operation.
But the organization had one glowing accomplishment: With driver Regan Smith it won the 2011 Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, one of NASCAR most prestigious races and one every driver wants to win.
Busch’s fortunes changed for the better with Furniture Row. He finished among the top 10 three times in six races.
Perhaps that was a sign that he could be competitive again, even with a one-car operation.
This season we’ve seen more evidence of that. No, Busch hasn’t emerged as a victory contender from week to week, but he has enjoyed marked improvement.
And people have taken notice.
In12 starts, Busch has had four finishes among the top 10 – three of them in the top five. The last time Busch had three or more top-five finishes was in 2010.
Furniture Row Racing has had only three top-five finishes in its nine-year existence.
So it appears obvious that something is clicking in 2013.
“It’s been a nice combination of really working hard and then testing a lot,” Busch said. “We tested every other week in the month of May so the month of June will be nice to not have to go to the other tracks during the week.
“That way we can get caught up with things and really review and get more intense with the debriefs.
“It was great though, the month of May at Charlotte, with a couple top-fives and now we jump into the summer stretch.”
Perhaps it was in grueling Coca-Cola 600 that Busch and Furniture Row were at their best.
Busch ran constantly in the top five until a battery problem forced him to be pushed onto pit road and seemingly out of contention.
But he wasn’t. He came roaring back and finished third, his best showing of the year.
“We bounced back, not dropping off the lead lap, changing a battery and came back to finish third,” Busch said. “That’s how you soldier back from it.
“We had a cable plug issue. It wasn’t necessarily a dead battery, it was a plug and a wiring snafu.
“It was something that shouldn’t have bit any team out here at the Cup level and it wasn’t like it fell through our system, it was just one in a million type chance.
“It was kind of like the regulator at Texas for us where we had it crack and we had a fuel leak.”
Busch finished 37th at Texas, his season low which matched his Martinsville run, where he was involved in an accident.
While Busch feels optimism at this point in the season, he said it’s what lies ahead that will test his team’s mettle.
“I read that it’s only 14 races until the Chase cutoff, which is hard to believe,” said Busch, who is 18th in points. “It’s like, wait a minute the season was just getting started, but at the same time here we are, it’s June 1 and away we go.
“The next few races will be tough for us. Where we struggled was the tracks with fresh asphalt like Kansas and Vegas and that’s what we have with Pocono and Michigan coming up after Dover. We’ll see how that shakes out.”
Certainly a decent run at Dover will mean a good start to the imposing summer stretch. However, last season Busch finished 24th and 23rd in the speedway’s two races.
He has fared much better. He was a Dover winner in the fall of 2011 while with Penske.
Busch qualified 13th for this weekend’s FedEx 400 at the one-mile track.
“The toughest part about racing Dover is just when the track rubbers in and you’re out there for 350 laps and that last 50 you haven’t simulated that in practice whatsoever,” Busch said. “And that is when the track gets rubbered in.
“You’re out there slip-sliding around and you have to be dialed in for that last 50 laps.
“It’s hard to predict what setup you need exactly for that and I’ve only found it one time. I’ve only got one win here.”
Even though it’s only slight, Busch and Furniture Row have offered evidence that they can win. But what will that take?
“Just those last 50 laps,” Busch said. “It’s like football in the fourth quarter or like basketball in the fourth quarter, baseball right after the seventh inning stretch and everybody changes the way they run.
“I’m a guy that runs intense every lap and so I was just trying to carry that banner of keeping it real, racing hard, racing every lap and giving it my 100 percent every lap.”
If things go wrong when Busch gives it his all, well, he can be expected to be upset and have his temper tested. He may get a little provoked – and we’ll know it.
But if he and Furniture Row continue to be competitive through what will be a tough summer season for them, things could be a whole more sedate.
Success does have a way of calming the savage beast.