DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With his sixth-place finish in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Kurt Busch high-jumped five spots in the Sprint Cup Series standings to ninth place -- proudly taking his place in the championship top-10 among all of NASCAR's elite teams, among all the large organizations and favored drivers that were "supposed" to be there.
Busch's single-car Furniture Row Racing team is the only full-time organization not based in NASCAR's more traditional North Carolina domain, but instead in its team owner -- relative NASCAR newcomer -- Barney Visser's hometown of Denver, Colo.
So compared to NASCAR's decades-old mega-teams such as Penske, Hendrick, Roush, and Gibbs -- Furniture Row is small and remote.
But it should not be underestimated. Especially with Busch at the helm.
The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion will tell you this wave of success isn't a case of over-achieving at all, but of fulfilling expectations. He told reporters all preseason that there was a renewed sense of confidence within the team and predicted that 2013 would be the breakout year. He promised this group was for real.
And it's been a good reality so far.
"These Furniture Row guys have been working hard,'' Busch said. "We've made little mistakes here, there, and everywhere. When we start putting it together, it's now starting to bear the fruit and we've moved our way into the top 10 in points. So that's pretty cool.
"We have a long way to go, and yet we still are getting better. I'm just real proud of these guys and the effort that we've put forth and just a big thanks to Barney Visser and Furniture Row and Chevy and everybody that's on board.
"It's great. We're there, but we've still got a bit of work to do."
The work he's completed, however, is a statistical success and has his most ardent competitors mentioning his name each week in the same breath as other perennial favorites like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.
Despite several victory near-misses this year, there are still plenty of encouraging signs.
Busch's four top-fives and eight top-10s this year are both season records for the team. Furniture Row had three top-fives and eight top-10s combined in 193 starts prior to Busch joining the team late last season.
And his ninth place in the standings is the highest he's been since 2011 when he drove for Penske Racing -- which, by the way, has no driver currently ranked among the top 10 (defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski sits 13th with teammate Joey Logano 15th).
Daytona is Busch's third consecutive top-10, and each finish has come in three completely different styles of racing including the Sonoma, Calif., road course two weeks ago, the 1.5-miler at Kentucky last weekend and now Daytona's superspeedway.
"We didn't quite have the speed and momentum to break through at the end and challenge Jimmie (Johnson)," Busch said Saturday night. "But it was a solid finish with a lot of high-fives with team members after the race."
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