AVONDALE, Ariz. – When Carl Edwards flipped Brad Keselowski on his lid running full throttle at Atlanta, NASCAR responded by parking Edwards for the remainder of the race, but no suspension came. When Brian Vickers rammed into the back of Tony Stewart as the two headed down pit road at Sonoma, NASCAR officials sat on their hands. When Vickers intentionally wrecked Matt Kenseth two weeks ago at Martinsville, he went unpunished. When Jamie McMurray went after Vickers in the same race, he wasn't so much as called to the principal's office.
So why does Kyle Busch's wrecking of Ron Hornaday Jr. in last Friday night's Truck Series race deserve such a different reaction? NASCAR parked Busch for the remainder of the weekend, including Sunday's Cup race and placed him on probation for the rest of the season.
"I think the championship implications had something to do with it," five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson said.
Hornaday was racing for a Truck Series championship, but NASCAR president Mike Helton said that had only a "small impact" on their decision, as did Busch's history of finding trouble. "Not an overriding influence," explained Helton.
So, no, try again.
"I think [Busch] was on probation?" Johnson wondered.
Nope, not on probation.
"It was under caution," Johnson responded.
Yes, it was under caution, but the race was under caution at Martinsville when McMurray went after Vickers.
So what's the difference between what Busch did at Texas and what goes on at the race track all the time?
"I don't know, then," Johnson said. "I really don't know."
Here's a theory: Kyle Busch got punished for being too honest. Yeah, too honest.
When it comes to payback in NASCAR, the usual protocol is for the ticked-off driver to wreck under green-flag conditions whoever ticked him off, then chalk it up to (read: hide behind) a "racing incident." In these cases, the intent may be obvious, but the evidence is circumstantial, and it's hard for NASCAR to convict without a reasonable doubt.
Busch left no reasonable doubt. With the yellow flag out, he mashed the gas pedal, drove up to Hornaday's bumper and dumped him. And just to be sure everyone knew he did it on purpose, he explained as much in an ensuing interview.
The sanctimony that followed, particularly in the Twitter universe where drivers, and in some cases their wives, were aghast that something like this could happen, was as ridiculous as Kim Kardashian's mom being offended by people speculating her daughter profited off her wedding.
[Related: M&M's drops Kyle Busch for the rest of 2011]
In the seven days since, Busch has been vilified, parked, fined, put on probation and most recently lost a primary sponsor for the final two Cup races of the 2011 season. For that, he can thank NASCAR, at least in part, because if he hadn't been parked, M&M'S would likely be on the hood of his No. 18 Toyota this weekend and next.
When taking into consideration the loss of sponsor dollars, race winnings, a $50,000 fine from NASCAR, further fines from Joe Gibbs Racing and his Chase payout, which took a six-figure hit when NASCAR parked him for the Cup race at Texas, Busch's financial loss could easily reach $1 million when the final tally comes in.
Through all of it, Busch is taking the high road – accepting responsibility, apologizing to the people his actions have impacted, even going as far as offering Hornaday a ride in the Truck Series next season.
"It's been quite a trying week for myself and my wife," Busch said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "I'm utmost all apologetic to everyone who has to go through this situation. There's no one to blame but myself. I'm here today to basically apologize to everybody involved in this huge ordeal.
"I understand my actions last weekend were uncalled for, were disrespectful and I'm here to make sure that I can continue on in a positive manner and make it so that everybody believes in me from this week forward."
Was wrecking Hornaday wrong? Absolutely. Did the punishment fit the crime? Yep. But the only reason Busch got parked was because he copped to it. Had he kept his mouth shut or simply played vigilante under green-flag conditions – you know, when they're running full throttle – he'd likely have gotten little more than a slap on the wrist.
That's the lesson NASCAR is teaching here: Boys, have at it, just don't be so obvious about it.