Monday, June 4, 2012

Kurt Busch has been the most interesting driver of 2012, but for all the wrong reasons

Although Jimmie Johnson has won three of the last four weekends and Mark Martin leads the Sprint Cup Series with three poles at 54 years of age, Kurt Busch has drawn the most attention this season.
Unfortunately, he has drawn exclusively negative attention of late, and that will continue for at least another week.
NASCAR suspended Busch until June 13 for remarks he made to a media member following the Nationwide race Saturday at Dover International Speedway.
Busch was already on probation from an incident on pit road with Ryan Newman’s #39 team after the Southern 500 a few weeks ago at Darlington so his antics last weekend sent him to the bench for this week’s race at Pocono Raceway.
Obviously, this isn’t anything new for Busch. Well, the suspension is something new, but he has filled his career with regrettable moments that keep him from being lauded for his driving ability as a NASCAR champion.
He lost his first Cup ride a year after his 2004 championship run in the #97 car for Jack Roush after he was cited for reckless driving.
Busch quickly found a ride with Penske Racing and had several incidents that eventually led up to a profanity-laced rant at ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch during the final race of the season at Homestead.
That rant cost him his seat in the #22 car, so this year he had to make do with the mostly unsponsored #51 car furnished by the singe-car operation of Phoenix Racing.
Busch could have used the setback to collect himself and make a second career out of returning to the top of the sport, but this suspension likely rules out the possibility of that happening any time soon.
People will long debate whether Busch’s penalty was too harsh or too lenient. Either way, Busch’s previous incidents clearly factored into the severity of his penalty, the same way they did when his younger brother, Kyle Busch, was parked for the Texas Nationwide and Cup races after he drove Ron Hornaday Jr. into the wall during the truck race.
In this sport, drivers can act foolishly and get away with it to a certain extent. Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski twice in 2010, but NASCAR placed Edwards on probation only after the second wreck.
Fans might also remember that he faked throwing a punch at teammate Matt Kenseth following the fall 2007 race at Martinsville.
Since those incidents, Edwards has not had any problems and nearly won the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship. He is also one of the most outgoing and polite drivers in the sport.
Perhaps Edwards learned his lessons and matured beyond the extracurricular games that tend to crop up during a long season.
That’s part of what makes Busch’s most recent actions even more surprising than the fact that NASCAR suspended him.
Busch is a Sprint Cup Series champion. That type of success carries a lot of weight in NASCAR. Champions rise above other drivers in the sport both on a competitive level and a respect level. Busch’s repeated mishaps simply aren’t fitting of a champion in this, or any, sport. had absolutely nothing to gain by arguing with reporters after the Nationwide race and a heck of a lot to lose.
What makes difficult to understand are instances such as the Nationwide race three weeks ago at Iowa Speedway. He acted like a gentleman after the race even after he was punted on the final lap while running third. He ended up finishing fifth and had to make a remarkable save to do so.
So one week Busch is polite and the next he is threatening to beat up reporters.
Even Busch haters might be a little confused at this point. Sure, it’s fun to root against drivers you don’t like and in some ways it is rewarding to see them struggle, but this has gotten out of hand.
At some point people will dismiss Busch as a lunatic and stop rooting for or against him. They will simply stop caring.
He will miss this week’s race at Pocono, but he could also be on the verge of irrelevance to the point that people will only tune in to see what he does off the track rather than on it.  
That could eventually take away his spotlight, which might be the worst consequence of all.

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