Monday, April 4, 2011

Time To Write Off The Season?

For most drivers, sitting fourth in points with four top 10s six races into the season would be signs of a positive season. Not for Penske Racing's Kurt Busch.

Throughout the early season, Busch has had one of the strongest cars. He won the Budweiser Shootout in Daytona, as well as his Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race. In addition, he was the only driver to score four top 10s in the first four races. Yet, despite his positive start to the year, Busch has been anything but positive behind the wheel.

Struggling to make the right adjustments throughout the course of a race, Busch has been highly critical of himself, crew chief Steve Addington and the Penske Racing engineering department on the radio.

Starting 20th on Sunday in Martinsville, Busch's No. 22 Dodge quickly fell back to 34th as they fought an ill-handling race car. The frustration once again reared its head with Busch stuck on the outside and going to the back.

Racing with Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill and Ken Schrader in the opening laps, Busch hit the radio letting off a tirade of comments directed at his team.

"In case you were wondering Roger (Penske, team owner), this is who we raced all last week too."

"My cool attitude today will prevail. It will get us a top 30."

"You can do whatever you want. I have no idea what to do to fix these cars anymore, and neither do our computers."

"I really don't like racing these guys. Can we make our cars better so I can run with somebody up front instead of a go-or-go-homer?"

Perhaps most striking of his early-race comments was his attitude towards the overall season.

"Somebody get the pen so they can write off this season."

Write off the season? Busch is only 14 points out of first in the standings with one top 5 and four top 10s. Hardly the fate seen by other would-be contenders such as David Reutimann, Joey Logano and Jeff Burton - who leave Martinsville 26th, 27th and 28th in points.

Yet the team's struggles to keep up with the changing track conditions throughout the course of a race has the former series champion concerned about their championship hopes.

"We just need to do a better job finishing off the races," Busch said Friday in Martinsville. "When we're running top 5 we've been credited for eighth, ninth and seventh our last three races. So that wears on you because those few points that you lose each week will continue to add up and the next thing that you know, you're right at the cusp of eighth, ninth and 10th in points. We just need to find better adjusting tools during the race. Whether it's done with our engineering staff or something Steve Addington finds, it's just a matter of being the best that we can be and make adjustments on the car as the race progresses."

Having dealt with both Kyle and Kurt Busch, Addington has heard his share of complaining on the radio, but knows he has to keep the team focused on the big picture.

"When you get that close, you just want to win," Addington said. "The frustrating part is the guys seem to be able to go right there at the end and we're still a top-5, top-8 car. That's just the frustrations, that's all that is.

"We just have to get better at making adjustments during the race," he said. "That's the big key to it, is to get better at the end of the race instead of being good at the beginning of the race. That's our focus right now."

Despite their struggles and frustrations, Busch and his No. 22 team have shown time and again that they can run up front and contend for wins. Addressing these issues early in the season is essential if they want to make a run for the title, but being overly critical and harsh on the radio may do more harm than good. Perhaps they should put that pen away and not be so fast to write off the season.

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