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Kurt Busch will not return to Penske Racing in 2012. According to a Charlotte Observer report Busch has been released from the No. 22 Penske Dodge, and a formal announcement from Penske Racing is expected on Monday. At the moment, Busch’s legal counsel has denied this story, according to the AP’s Jenna Fryer on her twitter feed, claiming Penske Racing has not made any type of decision on the future. However, several sources with knowledge of the situation confirm that a divorce from Penske is imminent.
There is no immediate word on who will replace Busch. Brian Vickers and Casey Mears, according to multiple sources, are near the top of the list of candidates while Ford is working to hold onto David Ragan. As of last week, Frontstretch sources had Ragan in a part-time, investor-funded Ford Cup ride for 2012 that was being negotiated but with the Busch scenario unfolding, that could change. Penske also employs Sam Hornish, Jr., who was poised to run a full-time Nationwide Series schedule in 2012 and has run Sprint Cup full-time in the past. Parker Kligerman, running the full-time Truck Series schedule for Brad Keselowski Racing next season is a longshot.
The release comes on the heels of a $50,000 fine from NASCAR for an obscene gesture and an obscenity-laced tirade at ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, who was attempting to interview Busch following a transmission failure at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The scene was caught on video and has almost a million views on You Tube. Penske Racing issued a statement last week that they were reviewing the situation internally, adding that Busch’s behavior was not representative of the organization and did not issue a vote of confidence on his future.
It is unclear where Busch could end up in 2012, especially without sponsorship. However, the veteran – who acknowledged that he is seeing a sports psychologist – is one of just three drivers to win the Cup Series championship under the current Chase format. While accomplishing that feat with Roush Racing, in 2004 Busch was also highly successful with Penske. In six full seasons there, from 2006-11 he has ten victories, four Chase appearances and 90 top-10 finishes in 216 starts.
The Frontstretch’s Mike Neff and Tom Bowles also contributed to this report.
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