The Frontstretch: Badly Branded: YouTube Changing NASCAR's Game For Busch by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday June 5, 2012

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Badly Branded: YouTube Changing NASCAR's Game For Busch

Thomas Bowles · Tuesday June 5, 2012


There are a lot of people who have been recipients of Kurt Busch’s potty mouth tirades over the past 12 months: Roger Penske, Steve Addington, Bob Pockrass, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jenna Fryer. Missing from that list, though, are three people in particular who could have really been the focal point of Busch’s anger from the start. They may not know this driver from a hole in the wall, but rest assured, if I were in their shoes I’d be booking a trip to Switzerland and getting busy producing a fake ID.

Kurt Busch continues to garner attention for all the wrong reasons — with YouTube providing a critical assist.

Their names are Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, also known as the three founders of YouTube. That popular video sharing device, right up there with Facebook and Twitter, may be the biggest accomplice in Kurt Busch’s downfall, escalated by Monday’s ten-day suspension which has put the former champ’s career on life support. (At press time, James Finch was rumored to announce the firing of the driver of his No. 51 as early as Tuesday morning on SIRIUS.) Car owners who were once salivating over Busch’s 2013 free agency have distanced themselves faster than when Jose Canseco walks into a pharmacy. J.D. Gibbs, who was being swayed by Kurt’s younger brother Kyle to offer a deal said the older Busch, as of this morning, was “no longer on his radar screen.”

Perhaps that’s because he got busy watching something on his computer screen instead. Busch’s Saturday postrace threat on Pockrass, who works for the Sporting News can be seen at anytime by anyone with a smartphone and the ability to type the words “Kurt Busch.” As we speak, tens of thousands are watching his latest tirade, not unlike the 1 million-plus who witnessed via social media his previous brouhaha with one of the Deans of NASCAR Pit Reporting, Dr. Jerry Punch. Unlike the 1980s, when a simple back-and-forth might not have even been mentioned or reported the rudeness, now we get unending reruns. The rage can now be branded as Busch’s behavior, 24/7.

The reality, of course, is that Kurt isn’t that petulant all of the time. But in a sport reliant on corporate funding, whose sponsorship of teams and drivers is connected to positive first impressions, Busch’s one-minute snippets offer up an instant buzzkill. This instant capture and broadcast phenomenon also put NASCAR in an inescapable box, one Busch even admitted after responding to the incident Monday. How can you put someone on probation, justifiably for a head-scratching incident in its own right at Darlington and then have them violate their punishment, in public only to stand there and do nothing? How would anyone believe in your ability to govern the sport, let alone punish offenders in the future with any type of consistency or strength? “Probation” might as well mean “free girl scout cookies” in that scenario; NASCAR, whether they liked it or not was left with no choice but to throw the book at Busch.

For some, this dramatic downward spiral was expected; after all, Busch has admitted to anger management issues, seeing a sports psychologist but showing minimal, if any improvement on-track in 2012. (Examples: Darlington’s bizarre punting of Newman, even though the No. 39 car had no involvement in his wreck and weekly insults towards crew members, intensifying with every week the No. 51 car runs 20th with, well, 30th-place equipment). For others, they will sit there and say the media was out to get Kurt Busch from the start. After all, most of the driver’s off-track problems the last two seasons have involved reporters; racers and those who employ them are a rough type, they know the personalities they hire and will sweep a lot of bad behavior under the rug.

But with the media, you can’t, because even in this day and age there is still a professional line between the driver who races and the reporter who’s paid to cover them. Both must feel safe to work in their environment; both must feel they’re in a position to get jobs done. What’s made it worse for Busch is the two most infamous incidents, involving Pockrass and Punch, are with reporters who hold sterling track records. The questions asked in both cases were within reason.

On Saturday, what were fans talking about after the Nationwide race? The contact between Busch and Justin Allgaier, combined with their heated discussions on pit road. If Pockrass doesn’t ask the follow-up question, then the people who read that reporter’s stuff no longer think their man is doing the job. The drivers may not like some of the basic questions, but the reporters also can’t make up the quotes – they have to hear them. Busch had every opportunity to simply play it politically correct, give a canned answer no one cared about and walk away. But he didn’t. In both cases, patience was replaced by petulance, which severed the connection between his brain and his tongue.

We are a sport obsessed with its branding and image. You’re right if you’re sitting there thinking Dale Earnhardt may not have survived as easily in this 2012 environment, but the pitfalls are the same for every athlete. Being a fiery personality comes with a cross to bear; every mistake, every “outside the norm” comment can be scrutinized to the point the people that pay you will pay attention. And if those in power fear a negative reaction, possible loss of income or future fan support…well, your career could be as good as toast.

Busch after his actions last season decided simply not to give a damn. That’s his choice, and there will always a legion of fans who will appreciate a guy who throws temper tantrums, mixing anger with aggression while wearing emotion on his sleeve. There’s no reason a driver has to walk the line in order to fit in with the brand he represents.

But in 2012, that’ll also cost him his job.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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Robert Eastman
06/05/2012 01:11 AM

Good article! It’s been fascinating to watch celebrity athletes who make more in a week than the average-joe makes in a year (or lifetime/TW) blow themselves up and think nothing of it. I wonder if KuBu’s demise will be as colorful as Jeremy’s has been. Possibly Kurt has a marketing strategy to attract new demographics to NASCAR. Could it be that Monster Energy wants to bring “the gangsta-rap crowd” into the “NASCA-hood?”
I swear (or should I leave that to Kurt?) a “Marketing Genius” could latch on to the Busch Brothers and bring a “whole new cool” to the sport of “taxi-racing!”

Sherri T
06/05/2012 10:20 AM

Never liked the guy, but it’s sad to watch him blow up his own career!

06/05/2012 10:22 AM

And with his career goes one of maybe two drivers left in the whole Cup garage with any sort of personality. Thanks, media.

06/05/2012 10:28 AM

I wonder what kind of family could raise two as spoiled as the brothers? No one ever took their toys away. Might they need a good stint in the Marine Corps?

Don Mei
06/05/2012 10:43 AM

I am in no way shape or form a fan of Kurt Busch but I am going to defend him here. Think about it; a driver comes in from going to wheel to wheel in a race at very high speeds; adrenalin and emotion at their very peak and some reporter, who would probably wet his pants if you took him over 100MPH asks a provocative at best, stupid at worst, question. Exactly how much self control can you expect? Everyone bitches and complains about how calm and corporate Jimmie Johnson stays under these circumstances, then they bitch about a driver who is a hothead, losing his calm. Exactly what the hell do we want here in corporate driven NASCAR? Imagine AJ Foyt being subjected to that nonsense; he would have decked the reporter.

06/05/2012 11:19 AM

John, are you seriously blaming the media for Kurt’s mouth? The questions that were asked in both cases were legitimate questions. He has no else to blame but himself

06/05/2012 11:34 AM

Maybe it’s not so much what Kurt says as it is how he says it. The arrogance, the entitlement attitude, make the words go from mere complaining to pure nastiness. He knows or should know, the guidelines he needs to follow to be a part of his rather rewarding environment. He needs to respect that. Sadly he simply doesn’t.

06/05/2012 11:46 AM

I am not a Kurt Bush fan but I think is a very good driver. It would be a shame if his mouth ended his career in racing.

06/05/2012 12:06 PM

Thanks Don & I agree with you 100%. I am really tired of todays “entitlement” of the self proclaimed “reporters”. I can remember when they either weren’t allowed or few were in the pits & they did respect the drivers & sport instead of thinking they are a part of it. You are correct about Foyt & sound as though you knew him also?

06/05/2012 12:25 PM

Kurt was asked a legit question by one of the top writers in NASCAR. By no stretch of the imagination was he “baiting” him. You folks that think poor Kurt is being picked on need to watch the clip again.

There are 50-60 (counting road race ringers and others) drivers in Cup. Seems everybody else can answer a simple question without coping an attitude about it and cussing out the reporter. And don’t forget this is not Kurt’s first time attacking a reporter. Last year it was Jenna Fryer and Dr. Jerry Punch, again both respected media members.

Kurt just needs to grow up. He is in serious need of counseling and anger management. I for one as a driver would not want to be out there racing with a hot head like that. Maybe this will teach him a lesson. It seemed to help his brother to be set down for a race last year.

06/05/2012 12:27 PM

This suspension is about as stupid, as punishment for cheering for a driver from the press box.

06/05/2012 12:34 PM

Vince you’re right,it’s was no stretch to call that question and the way it was asked baiting. Any dumb a$$ could hear and see it plain as day.

A top writer? please, the sporting news is still in business? What a joke.

This is why the younger crowd will never follow na$car.

06/05/2012 12:43 PM

I am stupefied at nascar’s decision to park kurt. if he proved himself to be any more of a danger than any one else they let on the track well, that’s one thing. But parking a guy for talking smack to a reporter who might have been looking to pick a fight??? Parking a driver who is the ONLY story in nascar who’s ratings continue to freefall? really??? Oh wait i’ll be sure to tune into the newly repaved pocono and michigan where the super high speeds will either lead to a super boring race or someone’s death. these clowns continue to demonstrate their bias and ineptitude. What’s next? are they going to run for public office after they are finished decimating nascar? anyone got a fork? i think this one is done. gosh, i am so angry.

06/05/2012 12:54 PM

I don’t understand how NASCAR is now in the business of policing what a driver says in an interview. It sets a very bad precedent for them. Tony Stewart has done quite a bit worse and never been suspended.

I suspect if Busch still drove for a major team/sponsor there would not have been a suspension.

Don Mei
06/05/2012 01:18 PM

Mike; I met Foyt once but I certainly dont know him beyond knowing hes one of the two or three best American drivers to ever climb in a race car. Imagine him going head to head with Brian, LOL. He would eat him for lunch. Seems NASCAR wants all the drivers to fit nicely into the pegs on their little play board. Squash those personalities! I guess it’s really working; notice the half empty stands at Dover?

Carl D.
06/05/2012 01:47 PM

Kurt brought this whole mess on himself. Even if he is being baited by the media, he’s being baited because he’s shown time and time again that he can be goaded into providing some fireworks at his own expense. Kurt should know when he’s being manipulated, but instead of showing restraint, he plays right into the media’s hands. He has brought this on himself, and I don’t feel sorry for him one bit. You’d think Kurt would learn to keep his mouth shut.

Don, I agree with you to a point about Johnson being perceived as bland by the fans, but that has no bearing on Kurt’s boorish behavior. It’s worth mentioning here that Jimmie Johnson still has a top tier ride and four more cup trophies than Kurt does. Folks may think Johnson is vanilla, but I’m sure he could care less when he pulls into his reserved parking space by the front door at HMS. A driver has to know how to act, what not to say, and most importantly, who pays the bills. Kurt Busch is old enough and has been in this sport long enough to know that.

Don Mei
06/05/2012 02:01 PM

Carl, I absolutely agree with what you said about Johnson, and to be frank, I think Busch is a complete a******. Where we disagree is over the right of NASCAR to force these guys into behaving to a standard they set. Quite frankly, if Busch wants to be a jerk, then by all means he has the right to be a jerk.

old farmer
06/05/2012 02:09 PM

The “media” should leave KB alone and let him race. Problems on the racetrack are entirely different from the anointed who stick microphones in people’s faces.

There is no way a driver should be suspended for reacting to a media question. If folks don’t like his reactions, they should leave him alone.

Put him back on the track where he belongs and put a lot of those microphones in the dark places where they belong.

06/05/2012 02:10 PM

Quite frankly Kurt and Kyle were about the only two in whole charade of NASCAR that portrayed some sort of character. Unfortunately, Kyle has been sat down and is now as calm and collected as all the rest of the millionaire drivers. I thought at the beginning that Brad Keslowski would bring some vital emotion to NASCAR, but it seems that after his pay check rose and has been told how to act properly so that people like Carl Edwards would not be angry, he has become as docile as the rest. At least Kurt is out to perform and win, the rest are driving around for points.

06/05/2012 03:13 PM

I See many foolish people commenting today: Fact Kurt’s on probation. Fact he “threatened” an accredited reporter (with a reasonable question) ..Thats why he’s suspended. Any one who thinks it’s ok to threaten people while they are doing their job’s just dos’nt get it (Nascar needs reporters) & AJ Foyt would not have punched a guy for that question (because it was reasonable) as AJ Foyt has more smarts than that (very successful business man) & Any one who could compare AJ & Dale to this spoiled brat punk is really in fantasy land. Those guys if they went after you there’d be a lot better reason than this..Geez you people are emotional ..P>S He could have said (if so offended) “Yes it makes me race different the same way it’s making me give you this response now” (Tony possible reply)

Tyler West
06/05/2012 03:40 PM

People need to get real. What Kurt said was not a “threat” come on!! That was a hypothetical scenario that has been run up a flag pole. It’s BS what is being done to him. The sport is boring and the “drivers” are BLAND!!Busch is one of the last good ones.

06/05/2012 04:12 PM

I seriously doubt if Dale Sr. could have made it in today’s nascar. Or many of the other greats of yesteryear.

Between the stupid Chase, the points system, the corporate money, the media, and the net…oh, and this block on wheels known as the COT.

06/05/2012 04:16 PM


There are 50-60 (counting road race ringers and others) drivers in Cup. Seems everybody else can answer a simple question without coping an attitude about it and cussing out the reporter. And don’t forget this is not Kurt’s first time attacking a reporter. Last year it was Jenna Fryer and Dr. Jerry Punch, again both respected media members.

You mean except Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick? Or how about Bobby Hamilton in his prime, or Kyle Busch before his reprogramming? Or Junior Johnson? Drivers with big mouths have been around forever.

This is a freedom of speech issue. If the sponsors or team owner want to reprimand him for what he says, that makes sense, he represents them. He does not represent NASCAR.

And even if you say he DOES represent NASCAR, that means he represents a completely dying breed—a driver who speaks his mind and has emotions. Something fans constantly whine that we need more of.

I have a very, very simple question: If Dale Earnhardt just got badly wrecked, or blew an engine after a horrible race day, and an annoying reporter asked him an annoying question, and he threatened to smack him, would anyone be reacting this way, and would Dale have been fined or parked?

And no, “Kurt Busch is no Earnhardt” is not a valid or relevant answer.

Don Mei
06/05/2012 04:42 PM

John, Betty and Scott; Im with you. Earner, may I suggest that you express your opinion without calling other people names? Calling me foolish for expressing an opinion contrary to yours tends to get me riled up a bit, but I’ll do my best to stay coldly rational and point out once again that just because a man says something that NASCAR doesn’t like,they have NO right to come down on him. Someone needs to remind Brian and the rest of the people running NASCAR that we do have a first amendment. You obviously are also very ignorant about AJ Foyt in his early years, before he became a “successful businessman”. You obviously also dont have a clue as to the kind of pressure these guys are under during a race.

06/05/2012 05:03 PM

I wonder if Kurt Busch’s problem could actually be a drug problem? Ryan Newman first raised my eye on that issue when he used the term “chemical imbalance” when describing what’s going on inside Busch. Chemical imbalance, to me, could very well be a code for drugs, without actually saying it.

Another possibility with Busch is that he never had to work for what he got. After all, how did he get the ride the offered him the big chance at the big time? He got it through the shooting of Chris Trickle, Dick’s nephew. Kurt got in Chris’ car and did well enough to get Jack Roush’s attention, then was elevated over a more seasoned driver, Greg Biffle into Cup late in 2000.

But the more I think about it, the greater the possibility exists that drugs could be involved in this, considering that NASCAR has, by far, the worst drug testing policy in all professional sports.

06/05/2012 07:59 PM

For everybody saying that the “media just needs to leave these guys alone,” remember that the drivers need the media. That’s part of what the sponsors pay for. That nice little 30 to 45 second “commercial” with their logo prominently displayed, taking a swallow of that Coke or Pepsi on camera and thanking said sponsor for making that top 5 possible.

If Kurt doesn’t like what he is being asked, there are much better and tactful ways to make the media member look foolish. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are masters at it. Granted, Tony had a rocky road getting there, but he’s learned. Kurt always just comes off as surly and mean. I don’t know how he’s lasted as long as he has without his crew beating him to a pulp after a race. He talks to his crew like they’re sub-human servants to him.

I would really like to see an interview with Kurt’s father. I want to see who raised two boys with such entitlement and poor losing skills.

Bill B
06/05/2012 10:24 PM

If the media did bait Kurt and he took the bait, then what’s that say about Kurt? That he’s dumber than most fish?

Stephen HOOD
06/05/2012 10:45 PM

I don’t think a threat was made. I thought Kurt made a valid point, “I’d kick your as$ but I’m on probation.” He didn’t say, “When I’m of probation, I’m coming to look for you.” I’ve grown to like Kurt Busch. Sure he’s a dumbas$ but he makes watching the racing fun. I’m headed out to get me some Monster Energy.

sylvia richardson
06/06/2012 01:10 AM

nasar is sooooooooooooooooo stupid.

06/06/2012 02:30 PM

Don Mei: One thing to remember, NASCAR is privately owned and therefore they can make any type of rule they want in a case like this. There is a first amendment but there also are consequences for what is said, just like here. Since NASCAR is privately owned, if someone while playing under their rule says something stupid, they can deal with it however they wish. In baseball, football and the NBA, the officials are off limits as to what a coach or player thought of the officiating. If something the organizations do not like is said, a fine is imposed almost immediately.


Contact Tom Bowles

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