Kurt Busch: which way now?

He’s been the pixie-eared prince of pandemonium for as long as I’ve been following NASCAR, and now Kurt Busch is being sent to the naughty step. Again.


It could be said that things look a little gloomy for the 2004 Nextel Cup champion.

In case you missed the story (!), Busch got himself on probation after a feisty afternoon with former team-mate Ryan Newman in the Nationwide race at Darlington a couple of weeks back. With 6 laps remaining, Busch got a puncture, collected Newman in the ensuing melee and then let it be known that he felt aggrieved by his former friend.

At least that was the impression he gave by doing a burnout by Newman’s pit stall on the way back to the track and then driving into his car when they returned to the pits after the race.

Later, Newman said: “It’s easy to say that Kurt blew a fuse again. I’m not sure why he did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. And nobody is. I think the chemical imbalance speaks for itself.”

NASCAR agreed: fining Busch $50,000 and putting him on probation until July 25 for reckless driving on pit road during the race and for being involved in an altercation with another competitor after the completion of the race.

No mention of chemical imbalances – but then Ryan’s got a lot more qualifications than most racing folk.

Last weekend the Nationwide series returned to action at Dover and, after another frenetic dose of action, Busch sought out Justin Allgaier to have a quiet word about his on-track behaviour. This was like a red rag to the media posse, and after his colleagues had gingerly skirted around the subject Bob Pockrass, a reporter with Sporting News, finally waded in to ask Busch if being on probation had moderated his confrontation with Allgaier at all.

Busch replied: “It refrains me from beating the s*** out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions. But since I’m on probation, I suppose that’s improper to say as well.”

NASCAR agreed: suspending him from this weekend’s event at Pocono and extending his probation period until December 31, 2012.

At present the whole of NASCAR appears to be down on Busch, but I’m not going to join that party. While half the current hoo-ha is focused disapprovingly on Kurt’s regular outbursts and altercations, the other half is being spent fondly reminiscing on the times when drivers – AJ Foyt and Dale Earnhardt Sr among them – would frequently get physical with journalists if they disapproved of how they went about their business.

That’s not to say that Busch has ever done much for my enjoyment of NASCAR either. It’s clear that while there’s talent there in spades, and a genuine love of racing that’s seen him become only the third Cup driver to cross over to the NHRA drag strip, he takes things a step too far a few times too often.

When in the past Tony Stewart has let his mouth get the better of him, he has at least retained a degree of commonsense. The point was worth making, even if the method was questionable. Not so in the case of Kurt Busch, whose rages have often appeared unfathomable.

In what can be seen as a result of his ongoing bad behaviour, Busch has shifted from team to team through the years. So much so that, despite his many on-track achievements, he is running with Phoenix Racing in the 2012 Cup.

This is a team which is more than a little down-at-heel when compared with the works-supported pantechnicons of Roush, Hendrick, Penske et al. And yet to be honest it’s also brought out another side to the guy as far as I’m concerned.

Busch has clearly shown how much the sport means to him – much like when Petter Solberg, the former pin-up boy for the World Rally Championship, had to set up his own privateer outfit to keep going back in 2009. Clearly it’s been hard, all the more so when he’s being employed by little brother Kyle’s team in the Nationwide class – something tells me that doesn’t sit at all well on a proud man’s shoulders…

The Darlington probation was well deserved, but I for one hope that Busch holds it together, rather than chuck it all in to go drag racing. Talladega this year revealed a completely new Kurt Busch to me – not least because his unsponsored car was wearing the colours of comedy NASCAR ace Rocky Bobby from the movie Talladega Nights.

That kind of tongue-in-cheek from a driver of his former stature was impressive. And, as a man on the outside, Busch was noticeable in being virtually the only guy willing to draft with Dale Earnhardt Jr at Talladega – something none of his teammates seemed keen to do.

To cap Busch’s Talladega weekend he spun out to cause the late race caution and ended up at the pit lane exit. In a moment of which Ricky Bobby himself would be proud, Busch simply drove back up the pit lane and virtually J-turned into his stall. So to let him get away with that, NASCAR race officials can’t be all that focused on the rulebook!

Hopefully the Pocono race weekend will be what’s needed to calm the situation on all sides. After all, things always get interesting when there’s a Busch or two around!