Kurt Busch (No. 54) races wtih Ryan Truex at Dover - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
Temper. Temper. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch has definitely got one. His temper has caught the ire of NASCAR more than once and even cost the driver rides with a couple of high-profile, top-tier teams over the years.
The driver lost his gig driving the No. 97 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing at the conclusion of the 2005 season, just one season removed from winning the Sprint (then-Nextel) Cup title and after a two-race Jack Roush-imposed suspension because of an off-track incident to end the year.
Upon his departure from RFR, team president Geoff Smith famously said that Roush Fenway Racing was “officially retiring as Kurt Busch’s apologists.”
Then, car owner Roger Penske tried his hand at giving a ride to the hot-headed driver. Things went well for a few years until Busch developed the habit of somewhat berating his crew via radio during races. Then it all came to a head in the 2011 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Busch ridiculed an ESPN reporter.
That incident prompted NASCAR to fine Busch $50,000 and he subsequently lost yet another top-notch ride in the Sprint Cup Series.
There wasn’t another top-level seat available with an owner willing to put up with Busch’s antics, so he was relegated to the No. 51 seat with the somewhat under-funded Phoenix Racing owned by James Finch.
Busch was also, reportedly, getting help for his anger issues. He started out the 2012 season saying that he was looking to put the fun back into racing.
It’s unclear whether racing is more fun for Busch in 2012, but it doesn’t seem to be fun for some of those trying to deal with his antics. An incident with another reporter following a Nationwide Series race at Dover (Del.) International Raceway in early June resulted in a one-race suspension from NASCAR and questions surrounding whether or not he would be allowed to climb back into the No. 51 after the suspension was over.
Kurt Busch drove for Penske Racing the last six years - NASCAR photo
After being asked by a reporter about the NASCAR probation he was already under, Busch replied, "It refrains me from not beating the s--- out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions. But because I'm on probation I suppose that's improper to say as well."
The comment was caught by SPEED Channel cameras.
Following the penalty handed down by NASCAR, Busch released an apology for the incident, stating, ““I accept NASCAR’s decision. I put them in a box, they had to take action and it’s my fault for putting them in this position. I apologize for the comments I made to Bob Pockrass (the reporter involved in the incident).”
The suspension resulted in Busch missing the June 10, 2012, race at Pocono Raceway. A couple of days later, Finch announced that Busch would be allowed to continue with the Phoenix organization.
"We have met with Kurt," Finch said in a statement. "At the end of the day, we are racers so we're going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. We know adjustments have to be made but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself. "We're going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor -- and we're going to do that together."
When Busch took the job at Phoenix Racing, it was just expected to be a one-year deal, with the driver merely biding his time until another top-level opportunity presents itself.
Busch has proven that he still knows how to drive a race car. After all, he made his way to victory lane twice last year, his last season with Penske Racing. But is the hot-headed driver holding himself back by not controlling his temper?
It’s often believed in motorsports that performance on the track can overcome questionable off-track behavior, but Busch has finally tempered himself into a car that’s not among the top of the sport, and therefore, harder to win in.
Besides, sponsorship, or lack thereof, seems to drive the sport, to an extent, these days. For many talented drivers, no sponsor eventually results in no ride. Busch definitely isn’t making finding a sponsor an easy task for potential employers.