The addition of Kurt Busch has raised the bar at Furniture Row Racing. Whether the team is up to the task of meeting those expectations is the focus of today's NASCAR offseason analysis series.
2012 In The Rearview
It's understandable why the bar was raised for Furniture Row Racing in 2012. After all, the team was coming off a season where it won its first race, came close in several others and had a young and up-and-coming driver in Regan Smith. However, those expectations never materialized last year, as it took until the 21st race of the year before Smith scored a top 10 finish and all told, the 78 team finished 25th or worse 10 times through the first 30 races.
Ultimately, the unfulfilling season proved costly as Smith was replaced by Kurt Busch with the team turning its attention towards 2013. And with Busch's late-season arrival came immediate results, as he led Furniture Row to top 10 finishes in three consecutive races -- a first for the team -- and set the tone for what looks to be a promising season ahead.
2013 Driver Lineup
Kurt Busch (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
If this were a poker hand, Furniture Row would be described as "going all-in." Not only has the team signed former series champion Kurt Busch to a one-year deal, but it has paired him with crew chief Todd Berrier, who has won eight races at the Cup level.
Also, in an effort to build towards the future the organization has decided to develop and field its own pit crew starting with this coming season.
Biggest Offseason Question
As is often the case, all eyes will now be focused on Kurt Busch and whether he can remain on his best behavior both on and off the track. If Busch can avoid the unnecessary distractions, 2013 has all the makings to be a successful one -- which that should allow him to get back to Victory Lane after seeing his streak of 10 straight years with a win snapped a season ago.
Furthermore, as Furniture Row prepares for what in essence is a make-or-break season, there is also the question of what the future holds for the team? It's almost a foregone conclusion that Busch will leave the team at season's end, but then what? Does team owner Barney Visser bring in another veteran driver? Or does he go the route of signing a young driver and grooming him - much like the team did with Regan Smith - and rebuild for the future?
Being a single-car team is almost always a no-win situation, with a seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling keeping you from achieving lofty goals. However, to the credit of Furniture Row, the Denver-based team has made it work better than most. All of which is why this year is important for all involved.
Because the reality is that never before has the team had a better chance to be a consistent force on the track and in turn, realistically contend for a spot in the Chase. But with that reality comes pressure as really for the first time, this team will be faced with moderate-to-high expectations. Whether the team can handle them remains to be seen?