Kurt Busch has signed with Phoenix Racing to drive the No. 51 Chevy for the 2012 NASCAR season.
Phoenix Racing is a single-car operation and receives engines and other support from Hendrick Motorsports. The team has raced in the Cup series since 1990, with its lone win coming with Brad Keselowski at the wheel at Talladega in 2009.
In 2011, Phoenix Racing's best finish was Landon Cassill's 12th-place run at Michigan. Needless to say, adding Kurt Busch—the 2003 Cup champion—is a significant upgrade for the organization at driver.
“I’m very happy to join Phoenix Racing and after entertaining a lot of quality offers, there’s no better place for me,” said Busch, though one has to wonder just what those "quality offers" could have been. Elite rides aren't exactly a dime a dozen in the Cup series right now, and Phoenix Racing isn't where you'd expect to find a driver who made the Chase and won three races (if you include Busch's All-Star Win) last season.
“It’s going to be old-school racing, where we show up, race hard and go for the win," said Busch. "And if we don’t win, we’ll go back to the shop, work hard and do it all over again next week. That’s the way we all started racing, and it’s great to get back to that."
Coming from Busch, that's a nice sentiment, but after a decade spent in top-notch equipment, I'm betting frustration with subpar equipment will come to the surface before long. Busch's volatile temper has led to controversy throughout a tumultuous career.
He lost his ride with Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season in the wake of a series of profanity-laced outbursts, many over the No. 22 car radio throughout the season and culminating in a tirade directed at a TV reporter during the season finale. Prior to his time with Penske, Busch lost a job at Roush Fenway Racing in 2004 following personality conflicts and a citation for reckless driving.
James Finch, owner of the No. 51 car, previously had said that he wouldn't put up with Busch's antics if Busch signed with Phoenix Racing. It will be interesting to see how that will work out; Busch starting seeing a sports psychologist recently in an attempt to solve his temper problem.
With the No. 51 ride taken, there appears to be one decent option left for free agents David Ragan (ousted from the RFR No. 6), David Reutimann (booted from Michael Waltrip Racing), and Brian Vickers (a victim of Red Bull pulling out of NASCAR): the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports.
The No. 43 was vacated when A.J. Allmendinger took over the No. 22 at Penske earlier this week, and even the status of the car made famous by NASCAR legend Richard Petty is up in the air. Former RPM sponsor Best Buy moved to Roush Fenway's No. 17 for the 2012 season, although Richard Petty (co-owner of RPM) has said that the plan remains to run both the No. 9 of Marcos Ambrose and the No. 43 (driver TBA) in 2012.