Kurt Busch won't be racing at Pocono this weekend after NASCAR suspended the 2004 Cup champion for one race following yet another run-in with a reporter.
Following Saturday's Nationwide race at Dover, Busch was asked if being on probation limited his ability to defend himself on the race track. Busch took issue with the question posed by Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News, responding, "It refrains me from not beating the [expletive] out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions."
Already on probation for an incident last month at Darlington, Busch essentially forced NASCAR's hand. Monday, NASCAR responded by suspending Busch until June 13 and extended his probation for the remainder of the 2012 season.
"I accept NASCAR's decision," Busch said in a statement. "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."
Busch hoped to use this as a rebuilding year for his damaged reputation and career. Instead, his actions have only reaffirmed what many inside the NASCAR community have come to believe: He's a problem not worth the trouble.
To recount: He was fired by his first boss in the Cup Series in 2005 after team owner Jack Roush said he'd had enough of Busch's antics; was let go by Penske Racing at the end of last season in the wake of two run-ins with reporters; and now has earned a one-race suspension with his new team, Phoenix Racing.
Following his ousting at Penske, Busch was virtually untouchable. Sponsors didn't want him, leaving him with few options. He landed with single-car owner James Finch in a handshake deal Busch touted as his return to "old-school racing."
What hasn't changed is his attitude, at least outwardly. He remains combative with his crew during races, was fined and put on probation for reckless driving on pit road coupled with an altercation with a rival crew member at Darlington, and now this, yet another incident with a reporter.
Busch's talent behind the wheel is unquestioned. He's won a championship, is the fifth-winningest active driver and this season has wheeled the No. 51 toward the front despite the team being supremely underfunded. Yet his career in the Sprint Cup Series is in jeopardy.
NASCAR is a sponsor-driven sport, no pun intended. To race, a team needs funding. To race competitively, a team needs a lot of it – around $20 million a year. Without that, a driver will end up on the unemployment line, no matter how good he is.
Sponsors were already leery of Busch following his departure from Penske, which is how he ended up at Phoenix. To gain back the trust from a sponsor willing to write an eight-figure check, Busch needed to prove this season that he was a changed man. Instead, he's just reinforced what a Roush official said back in 2005: "We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists."
Now Busch faces the very real possibility that no one – no owner, no sponsor – will be willing to hire him and that his slam-dunk Hall of Fame career path is effectively over at just 33 years old. It's sad that it's come to this, but the reality Kurt Busch must now face is that he may have just hammered down the final nail on his own coffin.
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