It's Official: Kurt Busch And Penske Racing Part Ways

Kurt Busch performs a burnout at the NHRA Gatornationals - Anne Proffit photo

Kurt Busch performs a burnout at the NHRA Gatornationals - Anne Proffit photo

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It's now official: Penske Racing and Kurt Busch have reached a "mutual agreement to end its driver/race team relationship, effective immediately.  The team will evaluate its options for the driver of the No. 22 Dodge NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car in the future while Busch will seek new opportunities with another race team," the official release said.

While news of Busch's imminent departure ran through the virtual world late Sunday afternoon and evening, it was not until Monday morning that Penske weighed in with his own comments: "I appreciate the [16] victories that Kurt has brought Penske Racing and our sponsors over the past six years," Roger Penske said.  "While I am disappointed that Kurt will not be racing for our team in the future, both Kurt and I felt that separating at this time was best for all parties, including our team and sponsors.  I wish Kurt the best in his future racing endeavors."

Busch scored two victories in 2011 and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third consecutive time, but it was evident - throughout the year - that he wasn't a good fit for the conservative, prim and proper Penske mold.  

Radio transmissions during the 2011 season revealed a pent-up driver who wasn't satisfied with his No. 22 Dodge's handling, even when winning or running up front.  It's been clear that Busch wasn't melding well with Steve Addington, the crew chief who left Penske Racing shortly after the season to go to championship winning Stewart-Haas Racing and driver Tony Stewart.  

Kurt Busch has a long history of being temperamental, dating to his days with Roush Fenway Racing, where he was fired with two races remaining in the 2005 season following an altercation with a Phoenix-area police officer; Busch had already signed for Penske Racing at that point.

Busch said he was "grateful to Penske Racing for six very productive years," in the Penske Racing press release.  "Together we won a lot of races - 16 in all.  Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy, but it's an important step for me and allows me to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person.  I want to personally thank Roger Penske for the opportunity that he has given me."

What's next for Busch?  There aren't many top-level rides available in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series to begin with, and this is a very late date to be looking for work.  

Busch did sample Pro Stock NHRA drag racing in a Dodge at the Gatornationals last March, when NASCAR had a one-week holiday.  He qualified but went out in the first round.  Busch could be considering an NHRA run, but even those rides are spoken for at this point in time, unless he wants to spend his own money.

Busch told USA Today's Nate Ryan that he wants to "put the fun back in racing."  He's engaged a sports psychologist to deal with his emotional and mental problems - and that relationship started before Busch's most recent outburst at the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale, the Ford 400 on Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5-mile oval.  

This was the final straw that broke the camel's back at Penske Racing, when Busch laid into ESPN reporter Jerry Punch and his cameraman, who were patiently waiting to interview Busch after his day ended early with transmission trouble.  A fan's cell-phone video of Busch's obscenities went viral and pushed Penske Racing over the edge.

© 2011 Anne Proffit

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