Kurt Busch is like the little engine that could.
The stock-car driver lacks the resources deep-pocketed owners lavish on multicar teams, and his main operation is 1,500 miles away from the sport’s North Carolina epicenter.
Yet the veteran is squarely in the mix in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s 10-race playoff that begins Sunday with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“For us, there’s no telling what we can do as a single-car team in this Chase,” he said. “We know we’ve gone against the odds to get to this point; why not continue?
“We’re not a favorite, but we can relish our underdog role.”
Busch drives the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, an 8-year-old Denver-based team that shares a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“It’s a genuine feel-good story,” Busch said. “Our group is just a little one-car team going against all these big dogs.”
Busch drives for the first single-car team to qualify for the Chase under its current format. He could be the first to win a championship since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992. That victory by Kulwicki, named in 1998 as one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers, is a major motivator.
“You’ve gotta believe,” Busch said. “The way Kulwicki won that championship . . . was because things fell into place, and they did because he was in position. He was up front, he led laps. It wasn’t the most spectacular run, but at the end of the day consistency is what pays to win a title.
“Kulwicki winning showed the little guys can compete with the big dogs.”
Busch had the second-fastest practice run Friday but slipped in qualifying to 16th on the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
“I hesitated in Turn 2 and didn’t get the job done,” Busch said. “We just need to bide our time Sunday and get to the front.”
Busch has had his share of victories. He has won 24 times in the Sprint Cup series and was the 2004 champ. But altercations with a fellow driver and media members contributed to the end of a seven-year association with Penske Racing in 2011.
He has not won since and struggled to find consistent sponsorship. Busch landed with Phoenix Racing through most of 2012 and switched to Furniture Row for the final six races that season.
The Furniture Row Racing association ends after the 2013 Chase. Busch has agreed to join Stewart-Haas Racing, already home to three drivers, including Danica Patrick.
This year, Furniture Row has reaped recognition from Busch’s strong late run. He has eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 runs, including a second in last Saturday’s regular-season finale in Richmond, Va.
“I feel like we have a 95% shot every week,” he said. “We haven’t gotten to Victory Lane yet this year so we’re missing 5%. And when we find that, I hope we turn it into a steamroller and go into each and every week with a shot at winning.”
Racing genes run strong through the Busch family. Younger brother Kyle, also a Chase qualifier, is considered one of the favorites to win the title. Kurt says success for both started with their father, Tom.
“Our dad taught us everything about the race cars — how to drive them, how to work on them, to understand them and just to have that discipline on what it takes to find good finishes and then to try to find unique ways to win,” he said.