Jesse Medford · Thursday June 14, 2012
It has been said for a few years now that one of NASCAR’s biggest problems is that the Cup Series still doesn’t have anybody to fill the shoes of Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt was tough, gruff, and “The Intimidator,” leading the drivers in both action and aggressiveness until his tragic death in 2001. The only drivers that currently have that type of a take-no-crap attitude, similar to how Earnhardt was on the track back in the day, are Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.
Stewart is here to stay for a long time to come, but he has toned it down just a little bit since becoming an owner/driver prior to the 2009 season. But Kurt? That’s a whole other matter altogether. As we learned on Tuesday, Kurt Busch is on a week-to-week basis with Phoenix Racing after serving his 10-day suspension, causing him to miss last week at Pocono. Team owner James Finch announced that Busch will continue racing for the team, albeit on a week-to-week basis, his behavior and actions being the ultimate arbiter.
The majority of the outcry since the Dover pit road incident that saw Busch levy an inappropriate remark towards The Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass on Twitter has been focused against Busch. It is the rare exception where someone is saying the sport needs to have him involved, yet fans complain the sport has become too bland, with too much corporate speak from the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, etc.
To have character, all sports need some competitors that go against the grain. Penalize those involved for their actions that are detrimental and move on. After all, Stewart has done much worse in his time than Busch has done and sponsors still clamor to him. If you recall, it was about 10 years ago when Stewart allegedly assaulted a photographer, paired with Fortune 500 Home Depot yet never missed any track time. But that’s not the direction NASCAR seems to be heading; after all, Busch was forced to sit out last weekend’s races for talking facetiously about fighting with a writer. With so much exposure for these athletes, media outlets following every driver’s move and comment today, NASCAR may not want Busch to continue giving the sport a black eye.
“NASCAR will keep on going,” Jeff Hammond said Tuesday night on Race Hub. He continued to say, “It don’t have to have you to keep going.”
True, the sport will survive. But what good is it where all the competitors are friendly and sportsmanlike?
The truth is NASCAR needs Kurt Busch, “Because he has the desire and quite possibly the most unlevel head ever, which makes him a key component of everyday NASCAR activities, day in and day out and especially on Sundays,” said Garrett Clayton, a Nashville, Tennessee retail manager and race fan. “NASCAR needs to always have a villain and someone that can be the person that is disliked.”
This is why Finch would keep Busch around after all of the turmoil. As an independent owner, he also needs Kurt Busch. Finch is paying Busch a lot more money than he has ever paid any driver, understanding through the process that no press is bad press. The publicity is the only thing that keeps Phoenix Racing afloat. And just like Frontstretch.com’s Tom Bowles said yesterday, Finch is seducing us all for the power of national publicity.
Finch spoke last week of bailing from the plane crash that is Kurt Busch. But after a week of cooling down, he decided to allow Busch to continue piloting his racecar. “At the end of the day, we are racers, so we’re going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet,” Finch said in an official statement. “We know adjustments have to be made, but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself. We’re going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor and we’re going to do that together.”
Without Busch, Phoenix Racing would not be able to attract the piecemeal sponsorship that they have thrown together for a couple races this year. The reason James Finch has always run this team as a part-time operation is because he hasn’t been bringing in sponsors since Miccosukee Resort and Gaming pulled their partial season deal from the team over two years ago – ironically after winning their first Cup race with Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009.
And now, the team has been boasting of the news that The Jerry Springer Show has been contemplating sponsoring Busch. They say Springer noticed the media attention received at Talladega, with the Talladega Nights paint scheme on Busch’s No.51 “Me” Chevy. The show has requested a photo rendering of the car and is reportedly looking into demographics right now.
Who better to sponsor a driver like Busch? Other than the Monster Energy Drink partial sponsorship Busch brings to the table, you aren’t going to find many companies willing to embrace this type of personality and the negativity that hovers over Busch like a black cloud. “They [companies] want somebody that is going to represent them in a positive light, said Andy Petree on NASCAR Now. “The field has got to be limited for that team on which companies would want to align themselves with this kind of rash behavior.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule. With solid performances, and/or speaks flying on-track the sponsors like Springer that are looking for a spark that Busch brings to the table will start calling. As everybody is now learning, there is a certain kind of publicity a true bad boy of NASCAR can bring them.
So we’ll see, going forward if it’s the 2004 Cup champion who gets the last laugh. In the meantime, for those that say Busch is wasting his final opportunity, even his former teammate would disagree. “He is the most talented one [driver] I’ve worked with,” said Brad Keselowski in a NASCAR teleconference. “That talent will carry him through some of those trying times and I think he will find another opportunity down the road.”
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