In between talking about how much fun he's having "old school" racing and how he needs to learn how to better handle adversity better, Kurt Busch let it be known that he's focused on the big "prize": 2013.
"Yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself," Busch said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need. And all along we're going to keep our eyes on the prize in 2013."
And according to Busch, he could have several quality options.
After being cast away from Penske Racing in early December in what he's described as a mutual parting of the ways, Busch said he talked to a number of team owners about 2012, including Richard Childress, Michael Waltrip and Richard Petty, who on Thursday said he didn't sign Busch because sponsors were leery of the 2004 champion.
"It was weird to hear his comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road," Busch said. "But the contracts just didn't align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with [James] Finch, made the deal happen. "
Listening to Busch, it's clear his plan is to be with Finch – a single-car owner who gets support from Hendrick Motorsports – for only one year. Then it's on to bigger and better things.
But to get that opportunity, Busch realizes he has to change.
His self diagnosis: When things are good on the track, life's good off it, too. But when things aren't going well inside the race car, that's when his demons come out.
"In looking at the big picture, I've got to understand what it takes to be a competitive driver and to harness that fire in my belly the right way and to put it together in a 2004 style effort," he explained. "When things are going smooth, this is a tough freight train to stop. When things are going rough, that's what I have to polish up on and knock the rough edges off."
The rough edges include berating his crew chief, mouthing off to his team owner and having run-ins with the media.
Busch said he plans to use on using 2012 as a platform to reintroduce himself to sponsors – to get in front of as many of them as possible and show them that he's more than just a hothead.
The good news for Busch is that while Petty said sponsors are not interested in him now, they could be in time.
"If [you] put him back on the back burner," Petty said sponsors told him, "yeah, we might sit down and talk to you about it."
That will all depend on how Busch responds in 2012, a season that is sure to test his patience. Finch's organization is underfunded (Busch explained "we're getting the same job done with a calculator and a tape measure" that 10 people with computers did at Penske), undermanned (the team didn't have enough time to put in a fitted seat for Busch prior to testing at Daytona, meaning he had to use one built for Landon Cassill) and a big-time underdog (Finch has 11 top-10s in 191 Cup starts).
"It's not going to take winning to make me happy," Busch insisted. "Right now it's just going to the track, having fun, and at the end of the day, like the first day when I was at the shop, Finch was there, we all looked at each other like we were done talking, it was quarter to four. I said, 'Where's your beer cooler around here?' We went and cracked open a couple beers and started chitchatting the rest of the day about fun stories. That's what this is going to be about for me in 2012."
We'll see about that.
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