Kurt Busch is back.
The 2004 champion of NASCAR's top series is returning to a premier organization, this time with a Stewart-Haas Racing team that won the 2011 championship with driver and co-owner Tony Stewart. SHR has called an announcement for Tuesday afternoon at the team's Kannapolis, N.C., headquarters to unveil the driver who will join Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick beginning in 2014.
A 24-time race winner, Busch currently has single-car Furniture Row Racing in contention for a berth to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That bid took a blow Saturday night in Bristol, Tenn., when a bad wheel hub knocked the Denver-based organization outside the top 10 in points. It was the latest in a series of miscues that have hampered the No. 78 team's quest for a first playoff bid.
SHR's pursuit of Busch has come to light in the past two weeks, and is being spearheaded by co-owner Gene Haas, who founded the organization before Stewart was brought on board. Haas will appear at SHR's announcement at 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, along with team competition director Greg Zipadelli.
Last week at Bristol, Zipadelli made no secret that the team wanted Busch in a fourth car, even though a month earlier the organization had chosen not to retain current driver Ryan Newman for the 2014 season.
"Gene is obviously a partner who started this many years ago. He's always liked Kurt. We talked about Kurt last year, putting him in the 39 (car), and things just didn't work out," Zipadelli said at Bristol. "It's really nothing that Ryan did wrong. He's done a great job, he's a good guy, heck of a driver. This just kind of got sprung on us 14 days ago or less, this kind of all came down."
Busch isn't the only major addition on SHR's radar. The team is also bringing in crew chief Rodney Childers to oversee Harvick's team beginning next season. Childers has won three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races with Michael Waltrip Racing, most recently last month with Brian Vickers. Monday was Childers' last day with MWR, although he'll remain under contract with the team through Dec. 31. MWR's vice president for competition, Scott Miller, will oversee the No. 55 for the remainder of this season.
There was no formal confirmation of any signings Monday by SHR, which deferred all questions to Tuesday's announcement.
Joining SHR caps a career comeback for Busch, who was thrust into professional wilderness after the 2011 season when he split from Penske Racing. After nearly a full season of racing with cash-strapped Phoenix Racing -- with which he nearly won at the road course in Sonoma, Calif. -- the Las Vegas native joined Furniture Row Racing, who he's carried into Chase contention. The team is currently 12th in points, but fifth in Wild Card standings because Busch does not have a victory on the season.
That quest for a first victory with Furniture Row -- and Busch's first victory since October of 2011 with Penske -- has been hampered by issues beyond the driver's control. A slow pit stop kept Busch from winning the Sprint All-Star exhibition, and a week later he suffered a dead battery while leading the Coca-Coca 600. Saturday at Bristol, he was again leading the race when he suffered what at first appeared to be a loose wheel, and turned out to be a bad wheel hub.
Beginning next season, Busch returns to a level where he should be able to contend for race wins and championships with more regularity. SHR has won 19 times since Stewart became part-owner of the organization prior to the 2009 season, including one each this year by Stewart and Newman. Three-time NASCAR champion Stewart is out for the remainder of this season with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash.
The hottest property on NASCAR's free-agent market, Busch had no shortage of options for 2014. The driver had spoken with officials at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing about the No. 42 car which will become open when Juan Pablo Montoya parts ways with that organization after this season, and Furniture Row had hoped to retain Busch for next year.
"It was always our intention to extend Kurt's contract with Furniture Row Racing," the organization announced in a press release. "We made him an offer last week to to continue as the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in 2014 and beyond. Though he did not accept our offer we respect his decision and wish him future success. His driving skill and being a dedicated team player will always be appreciated at Furniture Row Racing. But for right now the main focus for Kurt and the team is to qualify for the Chase and contend for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series championship.
Furniture Row Racing's technical and engineering programs along with a talented road crew have made great strides this season, which have been evident with the consistently fast race cars that we have brought to the track week in and week out. We, along with our technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, are deeply committed to continuing the work in progress. We are currently in a search process for a new driver in 2014, one who shares the same commitment and winning attitude that we all do at Furniture Row Racing."
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