(Photos: Getty Images)
Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
2008 finish: 18th
2009 outlook: Coming off the worst season of his career, Kurt Busch certainly has something to prove.
From the moment the tour left Phoenix in April, Busch wasn't a threat to make the Chase.
If that weren't enough, Busch had to sit and watch as his younger brother (Kyle Busch) won eight races before the summer was even over.
Now, heading into 2009, one has to wonder if the best years for the 2004 champion are behind him.
The move from Roush Fenway Racing to Penske Racing three years ago hasn't exactly panned out the way Kurt Busch had hoped. The easy target for Busch's lack of success is Penske. Neither Busch nor teammate Ryan Newman experienced much success over the last three seasons, and Newman's departure to Stewart-Haas Racing, an organization that's never won a Cup race, is as sure a signal as there is that things at Penske aren't necessarily looking up.
Regardless of fault, Busch is nearing a crossroads in his career. Is he the driver who won a championship five seasons ago or is he nothing more than a cantankerous son of a gun capable of winning a race here and there?
Considering the slope of his career, he appears to be a lot closer to the latter than the former, though at 30 he still has time to turn that around.
What you need to know: When Penske began using the new Dodge engine last September, Busch's results got better. He collected three top-10 finishes – including a second and a third – in the final six races. Considering he only had 10 of those all season, it was a marked improvement. If there is reason to believe Busch can make a run at making the Chase, this is it.