FORT WORTH, Texas — Kurt Busch isn't going to win the Sprint Cup championship this year.
But the fact that he and the No. 78 car of Furniture Row Racing are even in the Chase for the Championship is a remarkable feat.
Busch is the first driver from a single-car team to qualify for the Chase since it began in 2004, and the accomplishment comes not long after Busch's bad behavior had his career on the decline.
Busch is looking forward to Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, which begins at 2 p.m., as he tries to finish the season strong with Furniture Row. A win is one of the few accomplishments still missing from his impressive season, and TMS is a place where he has had success — including a victory in November 2009.
“It's been a successful season to make the Chase as a single-car team,” he said. “The fact that we haven't won yet isn't discouraging, because there have been so many other little wins along the way that have meant a lot to this team.
“In the Chase, we have a couple top-5 finishes, and we don't have any disastrous finishes, but we have too many mediocre finishes. That's what has us down in the running order.”
Still, where he is now is a long way from where he was two years ago. After inconsistent racing and public outbursts directed at other drivers and media members, Busch's attitude landed him in a bad place. He no longer had a big-team ride after spending the first 11 years of his career with either Roush Fenway or Penkse Racing.
Despite being a champion driver — he won the first Chase in 2004 — Busch's best option was to sign with Phoenix Racing for the 2012 season. Even that didn't work out, and he left before the year ended to hook on with another small, one-car team at Furniture Row.
This season in the No. 78 car has been a spectacle. Entering Sunday's race, he has finished in the top 10 in nearly half of the 33 races, with 10 top-5s.
“It's been very gratifying, and a nice sense of accomplishment to bump this team up,” Busch said of the 39 races he's run with Furniture Row, beginning last October. “I think the team was ready, and I just complemented some of the areas to put this run together.
“We were one of the best teams through the summer months to make the Chase. I think I just hit them at the right time when they were ready to succeed.”
With so much on-track success, Busch is heading back to the big-team world, having signed on to be the fourth driver at Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
He'll get the chance to show that he has matured, and that he can benefit a multicar team, rather than detract from it.
“He won the championship in 2004, but I told Kurt back in August that this was the most impressive season he's ever had,” said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, who has served as a sounding board for Busch over the last few years. “He shot himself in the foot with some of the things he had done that knocked him out of top rides. I've kept telling him, ‘Keep your nose clean. You've got so much talent.'
“So here he was on a one-car team, not in that front group of teams. But he has carried them on his shoulders and put them in that group.”
Busch has earned some respect around the sport for both his behavior and his driving this year. And he feels the experience of the last two years brought some perspective that will benefit him with Stewart-Haas next year.
“We're going to be the fourth car at Stewart-Haas, so it'll be a matter of matching up with the right people and developing this team from the ground up,” he said. “We've got to find all the employees who will be turning wrenches and building the cars. There's going to be a great deal of satisfaction in developing this team, and I think I'm much better prepared for that in this part of my career.”