Unfortunately, Kurt Busch Just Doesn’t Get It

Kurt Busch is a proven winner and a past NASCAR champion. However, his continued confrontations with the media, fellow competitors and others has cast a great deal of negative attention on his career.

This is most likely on the tail end of the list of commentaries about Kurt Busch but I want to raise some points anyway – largely because I’ve been asked by more than a few to do so.

As you know, Busch has been suspended until June 13 and his current probation, which was to end on July 25, has now been extended until Dec. 31.

All of this is a result of Busch’s verbal altercation with veteran reporter Bob Pockrass – one of the best in the business – following the Nationwide Series race at Dover on June 2.

Busch was caught on SPEED video berating, and even threatening, Pockrass because he asked a followup question about Busch’s altercation with Justin Allgaier in the Nationwide event.

Among other things Busch said that his probation “refrains me from beating the s— out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions.”

Two points to make here:

Pockrass’ question was anything but stupid. It was simply logical to ask Busch if he refrained from roughing it up with Allgaier because Busch was on probation.

As for probation, it was Busch himself who brought up the subject in the first place. He did so in a post-race interview with ESPN.

Did he really think reporters would not follow up on that? I hope he’s not that dumb.

But then, Busch simply doesn’t get it – not at all.

Don’t take my word for it. Simply look up the litany of run-ins he’s had with the media over the years.

Add those he’s encountered with fellow competitors, and even an Arizona sheriff’s department, and you will learn that Busch has yet to figure out his problem. In fact, over the years he has simply intensified it.

You’ll reach the same conclusion I share with many people.

Which is, simply, Busch doesn’t get it – not at all.

Despite that he won the 2004 championship, and many races, with Roush Fenway Racing, Busch’s repeated controversial confrontations – topped by his arrogance and emotional rants when stopped near Phoenix International Raceway for a traffic violation – forced Roush to get rid of him.

A team spokesman said, “We are tired of being Kurt Busch’s apologists.”

Busch, admittedly a very talented driver, joined Penske Racing in 2006 and stayed there for six years. He won races.

But I suspect he always had a tenuous relationship with team members.

Nearly everyone thought the same when they heard Busch berate his crew members with profanity-filled tirades via radio during a race – many times, I might add.

Busch’s tenure at Penske came to an end last year. Busch called it a “mutual decision.” I’ll take his word for it.

However, I do believe that team owner Roger Penske’s patience had come to an end.

For a myriad of reasons Busch did not land a ride with the type of team to which he had become accustomed.

None of them came calling.

Which, in my opinion, should have set off alarms for Busch.

But he just doesn’t get it.

Busch now drives for James Finch (left) whose Phoenix Racing team won at Talladega with driver Brad Keselowski. Finch has indicated he won't tolerate Busch's behavior.

Instead Busch entered into a handshake agreement with James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing.

For Busch it was clearly a step backward.

Which is not to be critical of Finch’s team. It has earned a victory and, overall, has done very well given the circumstances under which it exits.

But it’s fair to say that it can’t perform at NASCAR’s top level because it can’t match the resources of the elite teams. Even today it operates without a full-time sponsor.

Busch said that to be a part of Phoenix Racing was to have fun again because he would pitch right in and help prepare for every race.

And he had the opportunity to rebuild his image.

He hasn’t taken advantage of it.

At Darlington, Busch drew the ire of Ryan Newman’s crew when he did an anger-driven burnout through the team’s pit box after being involved in a crash.

After the race Busch and some of Newman’s crewmen were involved in an altercation.

There was an altercation that involved Busch? Really? So what else is new?

NASCAR fined Busch $50,000 and placed him on probation, which is how things stood until Dover.

Now he won’t be able to race at Pocono and has to be a good boy for the remainder of 2012.

If he does so count me as one of many who will be surprised.

With his latest episode Busch has only validated his reputation as arrogant and immature.

As such he’s done harm, again, to himself and to Finch’s team. Let’s face it, what kind of success in a sponsorship hunt can Finch expect given his driver’s proven reputation?

As things are now can you imagine any company’s desire to use Busch as a spokesman?

Finch may be a very witty and gregarious guy who has hung around NASCAR since 1990, but he’s a keen businessman and nobody’s fool. He’s already said he will hold Busch accountable for his actions.

And he’s indicated strongly that he may take action much sooner than later.

Let’s get one thing straight: Those who claim Busch is good for NASCAR because he’s the villain the sport needs are misguided.

I agree a villain always provides spice to racing.

But that villain has always plied his style on the track. He was very aggressive, known to tangle with others and on occasion simply applied whatever tactics he could, as blatant as they may be, to win – and the consequences be damned.

Fans either loved the guy or hated him. They chose sides and couldn’t wait to see what might happen next.

How could NASCAR not benefit from that?

Villains did not become what they were by berating media members or NASCAR. That should be duly noted.

Sure, they stated their case, whatever it might be, to the press. But why shouldn’t they? Most of them realized it served their cause – which was to gain even more notoriety by stoking the fire.

They were not about to back down over who they were or what they wanted to achieve or how they were going to do it. For much of their careers, they gave no quarter and asked for none.

These villains had names – Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart come to mind.

Of that group only Stewart can be mentioned as one who vented, verbally or physically, against the media.

That was a while back. Seems he has learned some lessons.

Clearly Busch has not.

There is a big difference between being called out for actions on the track as opposed to boorish behavior toward the media – or others, for that matter.

I think fans expect the former. Many of them enjoy it and wouldn’t mind to see more.

But, as for the latter, they realize it does not in any way characterize a rough-and-tough driver they can appreciate.

To them, it sends out only one message: That driver is not an on-track villain. He’s nothing more than an immature brat.

And again, I don’t think – as talented as he is – Kurt Busch gets it. Not at all.

 

NASCAR Drivers Must Remember Their Privileges And Control Emotions

One of the perks that comes with becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver is fan appreciation. A competitor has to learn how to respond to that and how not, because of his actions, to push it away.

It’s fair to say today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors are the very best stock car drivers in the world.

Only 43 starting positions are filled during 36 race weekends per year on a variety of race tracks throughout the United States.

Racers spend years trying to build their resumes in an effort to gain a top Sprint Cup ride. It can be a lifelong mission that takes a huge financial toll.

If they make it, they become the best in the business. They become drivers who can adapt to a variety of track configurations, meet media obligations, and become comfortable with public and sponsor appearances.

They also deal with all the pressure involved in qualifying for, and competing in, a NASCAR race.

The vast majority of today’s drivers in all three of NASCAR’s top division are very happy and honored to be where they are.

But at least outwardly, it seems a few are not – or at least they need to evaluate their situations.

Kurt Busch’s tirade against motorsports reporter Bob Pockrass at Dover begs the question: Why do some drivers show so much anger toward against other drivers, NASCAR officials or media members?

It’s simple. Their passion for success and their competitive nature produce, at times, verbal or physical assaults that can be difficult to harness.

Competitive people tend to lash out when they think they have been wronged – or have failed to meet the goals through no fault of their own.

This can be especially true after a long day of racing. It’s hot. The competition is extremely close. Radio chatter has caused one whale of a headache and to top it off, what should have been a win has transformed into a disappointing sixth or seventh-place finish.

It happens. It’s part of the reason why it happened to Busch, again, at Dover. But I make no excuses for him.

It’s time that all drivers who are privileged to have a place in NASCAR’s elite circuit never lose sight of the fact they have a sweet deal – a very sweet deal.

Fact is, today’s drivers are pulling in incredible amounts of money, even before they sit in the car or turn the first lap of practice.

Their multiyear contracts are worth many millions of dollars. They get to drive cars that are built and maintained by some of the most talented crew chiefs, engine builders, engineers and fabricators in the business.

Even those drivers who race with lesser-funded NASCAR teams are millionaires, for the most part, by the end of their first season.

In most cases large corporate sponsorships fund the operations. With that money, team owners pay the bills and mechanics take all the responsibility for providing competitive race cars each week.

Drivers fly in on private jets and have team personnel escort them to their $1 million motorhomes.

As mentioned, an army of people presents them with pristine race cars to drive for practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself.

If the driver gets in the wall his crew pulls another car off the transporter that’s as good or better than the one just waded up.

With success in NASCAR comes rapt attention from the media, either in press conferences or at the track during - or after - competition. To serve themselves and others well, drivers must learn how to conduct themselves.

Now, how many family-owned short track operations would love to have that luxury?

Busch was suspended Monday by NASCAR for the threat of bodily harm at Dover. He has apologized.

We’ve all said things we shouldn’t have. Emotions at times get the best of us all. When it happens there’s no taking it back and there are consequences.

All public figures, as NASCAR drivers are, very often have a camera and microphone in their faces. It comes with the job.

Drivers have known it – and once wished for it -since their street stock days back at the Saturday night short track.

Sprint Cup racing is a high stakes game played under an international microscope, where every action and every word is scrutinized live, on video or in print.

No driver should ever forget that. There’s no escaping the spotlight during a race weekend.

There are 10,000 short-track drivers who raced over this past weekend who would gladly take Busch’s ride this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

There are millions of race fans that would love to make the money drivers do and enjoy the lifestyles they have. I also know a motorsports journalist or two who would love to experience such, at least for a day.

When another blatantly puts a driver in the fence, the natural reaction is to retaliate. I get that.

But that’s where drivers need a system of checks and balances. They need someone to pull them aside before they speak – and if they don’t have that, they must contain themselves.

By whatever means, drivers must never forget to control their tempers in public. That includes pit road when members of the media are gathering information.

Certainly it is not always done. After all, given the intensity of a race and the natural competitiveness of the drivers, that is understandable.

However, it is still a job requirement. It serves the team, the sponsor – and let’s face it, the driver himself – very well.

It would appear that given the wealth and notoriety that comes with achieving a lifelong, coveted dream, it should not be difficult at all.

Even though, at times, it is.

 

 

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