Top 20 Countdown: No. 12 Kurt Busch

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

Photo
(Getty Images)

2010 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
11 2 2 9 17
The countdown
No. 20: David Reutimann   |   Career stats
No. 19: Kasey Kahne   |   Career stats
No. 18: Mark Martin   |   Career stats
No. 17: Ryan Newman   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Joey Logano   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Jeff Burton   |   Career stats
No. 13: Jamie McMurray   |   Career stats
No. 12: Kurt Busch   |   Career stats
No. 11: Revealed Jan. 28

2010 finish: 11th

Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 12th
• Jay Hart: 9th
• Jenna Fryer: 15th
• Dustin Long: 12th
• Nate Ryan: 16th

Outlook for 2011: After an uncharacteristically weak 2008 in which he finished 18th, 2009 marked a return to form for Kurt Busch as he once again made the Chase, won two races and finished fourth in the Chase.

So, it would be more of the same for 2010, right? Well, sort of.

Busch and former crew chief Pat Tryson parted ways after the 2009 season, and Steve Addington, making a case for sainthood, jumped from crewing Kyle Busch to lead brother Kurt. Initially, the partnership went well; the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge won the fourth race of the season in Atlanta. A couple months later, Busch took down Charlotte – he won the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 in back-to-back weekends – and it all seemed primed for him to make a run at Jimmie Johnson and a possible second championship. (Busch added fuel to the proverbial fire by jousting, verbally and on-track, with Johnson early on in the season.)

But there’s a reason they run all 36 races. Busch was never able to sustain the momentum he’d built up over the first half of the season, and his Chase was a study in irrelevancy. Over the 10 Chase races, he posted only two top 10s (after totaling 15 in the first 26 races of the season).

So finding a way to keep that momentum going will be the top priority for Busch and his team, as will keeping motivation and spirits high when that momentum flags. Team owner Roger Penske has shown every indication of being dedicated to Busch’s success, so he’ll have all the team support he needs. But like his brother Kyle, for Kurt, it comes down to whether he can control himself well enough to get the job done.

What you need to know: Busch has left behind the iconic Miller Lite No. 2 and will drive the No. 22, sponsored by Shell. It’s a radical departure, and the fact that Shell felt comfortable enough throwing its considerable sponsor support behind Busch shows the confidence the team has in him. It’ll take a race or two before we recognize the red-and-yellow as Busch and not Kevin Harvick, but if Busch can run as well as Harvick did last season, he’ll be just fine.