Kurt Busch Channels ‘Tiger Blood’ to Surprise Finish

The troubled yet talented NASCAR driver impresses at Sonoma road course.

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

Move over Charlie Sheen. 'Team Tiger Blood' is coming to a NASCAR race near you and they are in it to win it — Sheen style.

Sporting an unadorned, sponsor free, red and white Chevrolet, the 'bad boy' of racing, Kurt Busch, nearly shocked the field with a win on Sunday at the Sonoma road course. Busch and his team managed to nab third place, his best finish since joining Phoenix Racing and his best result in 22 races since winning at Dover last fall.

"If we pulled it into victory lane with an all-red car and no sponsor here in California," Busch said. "I thought it was 'Team Tiger Blood' with Charlie Sheen around."

Throwing out a Sheen reference is somewhat fitting for Busch who has had his own share of meltdowns the past year. Busch lost his ride with Penske Racing after multiple altercations with the news media, and he served a one-race suspension from NASCAR two weeks ago at Pocono Raceway for berating a reporter after a Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway while on probation for a dust-up with Ryan Newman at Darlington Raceway.

His finish at Sonoma, while not redemptive, is a good start down the right road.

"If I can get my head on straight here and after the race, then I'm able to race every weekend and go for victories," said Busch, who got choked up a few times during postrace interviews.

Though publicly his image has taken a huge hit, among his peers, Busch is still respected by many, as shown by the amount of people who came over to congratulate his after his race on Sunday. He passed on the good will to the Toyota/Save Mart 350 winner, Clint Bowyer, whom Busch congratulated in victory lane.

"It spoke volumes about his character," Bowyer said. "He's a champion of the sport; you can't lose sight of that. I know there's been a lot of negatives around him, but there were a hell of a lot of positives today for Kurt Busch. For him to compete for a win in that equipment, that boy can drive.

"You give him the confidence and the direction and sometimes the discipline to get the job done, he's certainly capable of it."

Phoenix Racing nearly gave up on Busch after his numerous incidents this past year, but team owner James Finch decided to stick with the 2004 Sprint Cup Champion after crew members stepped up for Busch. In a vote by the crew, the team of 18 decided to keep Busch, a move that has humbled the current bad boy of racing.

"When you're on a third of the budget (of other teams), and you almost bring it to victory lane, you can't say that one guy does it," Busch said. "They bring the best out in me. This is a no-nonsense group of racers. We are a bunch of boy scouts where we have to support each other and teach each other things, and everybody has three jobs on this team.

"(It's) the closest family atmosphere I've ever had to racing with (brother) Kyle and my dad. We are not blood brothers who are going to cut fingers and form 'Team Tiger Blood' or anything, but it's really a neat group."

James LeBeau is a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports and you can follow him on Twitter @JleBeau76 or subscribe on Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.

Photo Credit: Tony Ding/Icon SMI