Mike Neff · Thursday December 27, 2012
Attention, NASCAR fans… welcome to Throwback Thursday! Every week, from now until the start of the 2013 season we’ll be giving you, our readers the favorite stories we treasure from our writers over the past few seasons. Today we focus on Mike Neff, a short track guru who shares some NASCAR pieces that have proven meaningful to our fans through the years.
This article originally ran in December of 2011.
Kurt Busch is unemployed after a mutually agreed upon release by Penske Racing which was spurred on by his videotaped outburst from the garage area at Homestead Miami Speedway. By now most anyone who is a fan of NASCAR who wants to has watched his profanity laced tirade that erupted after Busch’s transmission detonated in the early laps of the final race of the season and possibly damaged championship contender Tony Stewart’s car. The fact that so many people have been able to watch the exchange, which took place in a restricted area of the race track, speaks volumes about how race fans get their information in today’s social media intensive electronic world. In the end, that abundance of unfiltered information that is available to anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone is what cost Busch his job.
Kurt Busch is certainly not the first race car driver with a bad attitude when his car is running like a “tub of sh*t.” That description was uttered by A.J. Foyt after his qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 1987. David Pearson, one of the best to ever strap into a stock car, ultimately parted ways with the Wood Brothers in 1979 after his lug nuts were not tightened on his car during a pit stop at Darlington which resulted in the wheels literally falling off the car as it reached the end of the pit lane. Just think of the language uttered on both sides after that day. Truthfully, there are hundreds of other examples of drivers who would speak their mind at the drop of a hat, but the only people who heard it were those intended to and a handful of other people who were in the general vicinity.
Back then, there were a handful of reporters and an occasional television camera around to capture the events. There was a mutual respect between the drivers and the media that less than flattering altercations would usually not be public knowledge because it wasn’t meant for public consumption. In the rare instances where a filter could not be in place, like with Foyt’s outburst that went over the public address system at the racetrack, then it became public and the PR folks would have to work to put as positive spin as possible on the event.
Today, that filter is no longer in place. Anyone with a flip video camera or smart phone, that has a hot garage pass, can shoot a video and post it to Youtube, Facebook or Twitter in a matter of seconds. Most of us have seen the television commercial where the guy asks his buddies if they know how to post a video to Facebook and they post him actually asking that question immediately. As a result, interactions that are less than flattering are no longer swept under the rug with a wink and a laugh after the emotions settle down. Now, when a driver tells people in the general vicinity to get this MF’er out of my face, the video can be seen before the checkered flag falls on the event. Drivers now have to bite their tongues whenever they are anywhere outside of the confines of their private residence, motor home or team transporter or they risk potentially losing their ride.
The problem isn’t that the drivers use colorful language because anyone who listens to a race radio knows that most all of them will drop some pretty salty sailor talk in the heat of the moment. The problem is when this language goes out into a public forum and the drivers are wearing their colors and logo; it reflects negatively on their company, or at least that is the perception that the sponsor has. With the millions of dollars that these companies pour into the sport, they are more and more protective of their brand and the actions that drivers can have on their organizations. When something like Busch’s outburst at Jerry Punch shows up on Youtube and generates 705,000 views, the company will immediately put pressure back on the team owner to do something or they’ll take their money to another team that will be more protective of their image.
Unfortunately for Busch, the Punch incident was just the straw that broke the camel’s back in a year that, for whatever reason, saw Busch become more and more abusive towards his team. Busch led the series point standings early in the year but began to see his team’s performance slip as the schedule wore on. He made comments during media availability early in the year that his team had been the only one to consistently perform at Penske and that they had to bear the weight of the entire effort for Dodge and Penske in the Sprint Cup series. Shortly after those comments, Brad Keselowski’s finishes began to improve while Busch’s continued to slide and his position in the points became more tenuous. It eventually boiled over at Richmond with his radio meltdown that included the “Monkey F(*$%ing a football” analogy. As a result, the top engineer at Penske left the company and the direction of their efforts was altered which ended up with Busch making the Chase, but playing second fiddle to his upstart teammate.
With the Chase wearing on and the outlook of Busch’s season crumbling after he managed to win the race at Dover, his attitude on the radio turned darker and darker. His radio tirades even garnered their own segment on NASCAR Race Hub on Speed during Jimmy Spencer’s segment most every week. That notoriety would fuel Twitter every week with “What did Kurt say on the radio this time” messages. Then, the Punch video surfaced and it all imploded. Shell/Pennzoil put out a statement, Penske Racing had to dive into full damage control. In the end, the media exposure of Busch’s poor behavior was too much for the Sponsor and team to deal with.
Kurt Busch is not the first driver to talk badly about his cars and his crew. He’s not the first one to use very foul language directed at the people who work on his cars and make the decisions about how to try and make those cars better. Sadly for him, he is now in a new era where people can share that information far more easily than they did in the past and sponsorship dollars are much harder to come by. In the end, Busch ended up being the MF’er who had to get out of the face of the folks at Penske. Can’t wait to read the next Tweet about who he’s going to drive for next year.
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