I’m certainly not a trained psychoanalyst so I’m not about to suggest that Kurt Busch has a “chemical imbalance” or suffers from some emotional malady.
It’s been suggested he has both. But consider such “analysis” has come largely from angry, frustrated competitors after heated dustups with the veteran driver.
Busch isn’t really all that different from any other race driver. All are highly competitive. They want to run well. They want to win.
And they react, sometimes harshly, when they feel they are denied an opportunity to do both – or have been professionally affronted – by the actions of another.
In so many words, at one time or another, they all get mad. Period.
Even the most gentlemanly competitors with impeccable reputations sound off now and then.
Many years ago at Martinsville, I went into Richard Petty’s hauler after he was knocked out of a race.
He was hot, tired and very upset. Before I could ask him a question he launched into a tirade against Dale Earnhardt, whom Petty felt had wronged him on the track. He looked directly at me as he vented.
Rest assured I could not print what he said.
But there are a few differences between what is, shall we say, “accepted” driver anger and frustration and that which Busch has displayed many times over the years.
Busch shows a complete lack of composure. Sometimes he acts, in anger, in a way that could harm someone else. He can be condescending to his teammates. He forgets his surroundings and uses profane language on the radio or national TV.
In racing it’s OK to be upset. But there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
When anger or frustration spills over so much that it endangers others, threatens a team’s relationship with its sponsor or proves embarrassing to the fraternity of NASCAR, well, that’s when the line has been crossed.
Busch has gone beyond that line, repeatedly.
He did it again after the Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington, just the 11th race of the 2012 Sprint Cup season.
Many wondered how long it would take during his relationship with team owner James Finch for Busch to go over the top. Now they know.
Busch was having a good night and seemed destined for a top 10 finish. It would have been significant because it would show that the 2004 Sprint Cup champion can perform well with a team – Phoenix Racing – that competes without the resources of the powerhouse teams.
But Busch suffered a cut tire and wrecked with six laps to go, taking Ryan Newman with him.
Busch had every right to be disappointed, even frustrated. But his emotions got the best of him.
When he left his pit box after the accident, Busch did a burnout in Newman’s pit box, located next to Busch’s.
Reports were that some of Newman’s crew and NASCAR officials were still standing on pit road and had to avoid Busch’s car.
When the race was over and the cars came onto pit road, Busch bumped Newman’s car, which was directly in front.
There followed a scuffle between Newman’s Stewart-Haas crew and members of Phoenix Racing. A NASCAR official, trying to break up the melee, was shoved onto the hood of one of the cars.
It makes no difference if Busch was guilty or not guilty throughout the entire episode. Because of his reputation, he’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt.
He’s a repeat offender and, as such, he won’t get much leeway.
And he didn’t get any. Tuesday, NASCAR announced it had fined Busch $50,000 and put him on probation until July 25 for his actions.
Selected members of the Stewart Haas and Phoenix Racing teams were also fined and put on probation.
It appears that, once again, Busch does not recognize all the ramifications of his emotionally charged actions.
In 2005, Busch made headlines following a traffic incident in Phoenix, near the speedway and a run-in with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.
It wasn’t the first episode in which he was involved that embarrassed Roush Fenway Racing.
But it was the last. Busch was released at the end of the season.
“We are tired of being Kurt Busch’s apologists,” Roush President Geoff Smith said.
Busch moved to Penske Racing. As time passed, more than once he was heard via radio berating his crew. The expletives flew. There were run-ins with others.
Then NASCAR fined Busch $50,000 for his obscene gesture and profanity-laced rant at ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch at Homestead. All was seen on national television.
Penske released Busch – or, rather, it was the result of a mutual decision, as Busch has maintained.
Busch is now with owner Finch in a handshake agreement.
The union has promise. After all, Busch is inarguably a talented driver. The gregarious Finch may own a team that is not at NASCAR’s top level, but it has won.
Winning driver joins promising team. There is potential there.
But apparently Busch doesn’t see that – or chooses not to.
His actions at Darlington will surely make it harder for Finch to find the sponsor his team sorely needs. What company wants to spend money to support a potential embarrassment?
In time, Busch’s actions may eventually force him out of racing simply because he can’t find a ride. Who would want him?
Oh, he can get upset just like any other driver, particularly if he’s performing well on the track. He’ll have to keep it all at a minimum, of course.
But if he doesn’t there is the real chance that at least three things will happen: Phoenix Racing won’t get a sponsor, Busch’s tenure with Finch will end badly and Busch will never again have the opportunity to drive for a top team.
Apparently Busch doesn’t see that – or chooses not to.
Busch said last year that he was working on anger issues with a professional.
There is obviously more work to be done.
I hope that, at the very least, Busch does see that.