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Kurt Busch comes oh-so close at Charlotte

NASCAR.com

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CONCORD, N.C. -- When former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch first joined the Furniture Row Racing team before this season, Todd Berrier relayed to his crew a simple message: Don't make mistakes, and let one of the most naturally talented drivers in the sport do the rest.

The crew chief's words certainly loomed large over 10 days at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in two races the smaller, Colorado-based organization had a real opportunity to win. Last Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star Race, it was a slow final pit stop that sent the No. 78 car from first to fifth in the last segment. And Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, it was a dead battery that sent Busch to the back of the field -- while he was leading one of NASCAR's crown jewels with 74 laps remaining.

Owner Barney Visser's team has won one Sprint Cup event in its history, the Southern 500 on a tire gamble with Regan Smith 2011. This week, no pit strategy was necessary -- the No. 78 was strong enough to sweep both races, but instead wound up fifth in the exhibition before rallying for third place Sunday night.

"You don't get paid by driver ratings, you get paid by where you finish," Busch said. "Yeah, a top-five is great. To be up front, to lead laps, that's what it's all about. So we'll get these little hiccups polished up and continue plugging forward. That's the only thing we can do, is learn from what exactly happened -- was it a cable issue, a battery that was dead, was the alternator not charging? To show our strength tonight, to finish third, we'll take it. I think that's what needs to be said. The Furniture Row team was fast, and we didn't quite have a perfect night, and we brought it home third."

It was a brave face put forward by an elite driver who is trying to carry his team to the next level. Busch led only eight laps, but he was among the leaders for the entire event until the race was halted to clean up damage from a crash involving Mark Martin, Aric Almirola and Jeff Gordon on Lap 326. Under the red flag came ominous words from the driver.

"There's no power at all," he said.

Although some teams runs separate batteries that can be selected using a switch in the driver's compartment, the No. 78 isn't one of them. When the car wouldn't start, it had to be pushed by a wrecker onto pit road, where the crew switched out the battery. It would have been an agonizing task under any circumstances, but it was made worse Sunday night by the fact that Busch dropped from first to 16th during the changeover.

"At the end of the day, the alternator was still working, so we didn't do our due diligence on something for that to have happened," Berrier said. "I don't know how many miles are on it; I don't know where it is at this point. It's premature for me to say. But what happened was, we had something happen that didn't happen to anybody else, and it's freaking aggravating. (Busch) does the deal. All we have to do is not mess up, and he's going to make us look good."

Richard Childress, who owns race winner Kevin Harvick's car and whose Richard Childress Racing team has a technical alliance with Furniture Row, said he was told a battery cable came off the No. 78. That surely was of little consolation to the driver, who scored his best result since finishing third last year at Sonoma in James Finch's car, but unlike that effort knew he was capable of more.

"It was a good 550 miles it seemed like for us, then the normal something has to pop up, some adversity we have to overcome came about. It came about this week in a dead battery," Busch said. "I don't know, I'm a little shell-shocked still, trying to find the exact words."

Berrier could only shake his head. The No. 78 car ran exceptionally well over two weekends in Charlotte, but with the potential of Busch behind the wheel, that only added to the frustration.

"We can go back to Richmond and say we were good, and Darlington and say we were good. It's freaking aggravating. I don't know how else to sugarcoat it. The car's fast. But we don't capitalize on it. Hey, if it weren't a mistake that we made or something that we did and we finished third, I wouldn't be mad about it at all. But once again, it's the same thing. We were leading the race, and we had to get the wrecker to push us in. That's the part that's aggravating, for sure," he said.

"(Busch) doesn't deserve for the things that happen to happen. He's really, really good. He doesn't deserve it, and honestly, it's just as disappointing for that. He does everything in his power to put you in a position to win. I told these guys early on, 'All we have to do is not make mistakes, and he's going to do that.' It just comes down to being better as a group of people, and being better as a team. I know I sound like I'm down on it, but how can I not be?"

If there was any silver lining, it was in Victory Lane, where Harvick celebrated a win for an RCR organization that considers the No. 78 its unofficial fourth car. No question that as a single-car team based in Denver, Furniture Row benefits from its alliance with RCR, which supplies the outfit with chassis, engines and technical support. But the aid and information doesn't flow only one way.

"Listening to Kurt Busch in the meetings is something that adds to our team," Harvick said. "Not taking anything away from Todd (Berrier), all the guys working on the car. But the way that Kurt drives, hard, he has good feedback. To me that's been the thing that really has helped the 78 car become relevant for RCR and myself, is you can go over and talk to him and look at his data, and it's real and it's fast. It has really helped what we've been doing."

In the final analysis, two weekends at Charlotte will show a fifth and a third for a Furniture Row Racing organization that until last summer had never strung together back-to-back top-10s in points events. But those on the No. 78 team know what was left on the table, what might have been possible had a slow pit stop and a dead battery not intervened.

"It pretty much shows us as a group how we can run fast and beat ourselves," Berrier said. "We kind of knew this, that we were going to be good, and it was going to come down to dotting our Is and crossing our Ts. And again, we somehow managed to have something happen that didn't happen to 42 other cars in the field. But that being said, you lean that we just have to do better as a group."

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