At the end of the 2013 season, Kurt Busch left Furniture Row Racing and headed over to “greener” pastures – Stewart-Haas Racing. After a thorough search, Furniture Row named Martin Truex Jr. as the new driver of the No. 78. Given the success Busch had with the team in 2013, there would naturally be comparisons between the old driver and new. So how does Truex stack up to Busch?
First, let’s look at the many events that set the stage for the change in the first place. It was quite a unique set of circumstances that set the whole thing into play.
Tony Stewart had gotten injured in a sprint car crash and was in the hospital for a period of time. While Stewart was recovering from his injuries, team co-owner, Gene Haas, publicly announced that he was hiring Kurt Busch as a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing; a move that, evidently, he did not consult with his partner, Stewart, about.
In an interview, Haas said, “I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did.” He then continued while laughing, “But I think he saw it my way, you know. Either that or get out of the building.” Some assumed that it was just a joke, many people inside the organization, however, did not seem as confident. The entire scenario opened up questions as to who is actually running the team, and how the team hierarchy is structured.
Regardless of what the circumstances were, Busch would be the fourth driver at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. A move that finally brought him back to an upper-echelon team after his fall from grace when he continually drew the attention from the media for being extremely belligerent to team members and media members. When he was released from Penske Racing, he found himself driving for the underfunded team of James Finch, seemingly the only owner that would take a chance on him.
After leaving James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, he took the job driving the No. 78 at Furniture Row Motorsports. Though, it too was an underfunded team, they were in better condition than the Phoenix organization.
Martin Truex Jr.’s situation was just as bizarre. Truex seemed to be comfortable in his position at Michael Waltrip Racing though he wasn’t “setting the world on fire,” he was running somewhat consistent.
During the fall Richmond race, the No. 56 driven by Truex was involved in, what some have called a “race fixing” scandal. Several Michael Waltrip Racing Team members were instrumental in instructing the team’s drivers to pit for the sole purpose of allowing other drivers to advance their positions. Additionally, Clint Bowyer was accused of spinning his car on purpose to bring out a yellow to benefit the team.
As a result of these actions, the team was penalized and Martin Truex Jr, who had seemingly made the Chase, was removed from the Chase. After several days of enormous media attention, most of it bad, NAPA Auto Parts decided to end its partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing and Truex.
Shortly after the announcement from NAPA, the team announced that Truex was free to look for a job with another team. It took several weeks, but Furniture Row Racing decided to sign Truex to drive the No. 78.
Busch actually had a much better than expected season in the No. 78. The team signed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The technical assistance coupled with the driving talent of Busch provided a recipe for success that the Denver based team had never seen before.
Busch became the “Cinderella story” of 2013. Though he did not find victory lane, many times due to mistakes by the team, he did perform very well. By this point of the season in 2013, Busch had accumulated two top-fives, 3 top-10s, earned a pole and had led 108 laps. Heading into Charlotte, he was sitting in 18th place in the points.
Truex has always been a smooth racer and has managed to find victory lane twice in his career. His best season came in 2007 with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Leaving an upper level, well-funded team like Michael Waltrip Racing, however, and going to drive for an underfunded team based in Denver, Colorado, has led many to contemplate whether he has now lost his chance at prominence. If he cannot perform up to the level that Busch did the previous year, it could draw criticism of his ability.
Thus far the numbers for Truex are not living up to the standard that Busch set a year ago. Heading into Charlotte, Truex has only one top-10 finish, a tenth at Richmond. He has led no laps and has only completed 94.2% of the possible laps. He currently sits 26th in points, eight positions lower than Busch at this same point; a stark difference in the numbers Busch put up in 2013.
The only highlight for Truex came at the season opening Daytona 500 where he qualified on the outside pole. At that time, it looked like Truex would be a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.
Truex is definitely a driver that takes care of equipment. He will probably tear up less race cars than Busch did last year. Which type of driver would you want for your team? One who drives middle of the pack with mediocre results but less damage and repairs to the cars or a driver who attracts more media attention with better finishes and a shot at the championship but a few more torn up racecars to keep the team busy?
The scenario definitely gives us a unique opportunity to compare the two styles. Smooth consistent and steady mediocrity, or loose, fast, and sometimes a little crazy, top-10s.
Either way, what Barney Visser should be commended for is what he has accomplished with his team. It’s obvious that he wants to perform well. NASCAR is not just a hobby for him, he wants to succeed. The same can be said for Truex. He wants to succeed, the question is – is this combination the right mix to make that happen?
Now one-third way through the season, Busch definitely has the edge in this comparison. The end of the season stats will tell the entire tale.