Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – There comes a time when you have to be responsible

By now, if you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ve seen or at least heard about the video that was shot by Jon Adams in the garage area at Homestead. Kurt Busch was standing next to Dr. Jerry Punch waiting to be interviewed, but when Punch asked a question, Bush melted down. Over the nearly two minute video Busch dropped the F-bomb at least four times, although the audio is rather muddled at times so it may have been more. Everyone knows that Busch is famous for his radio tirades but this one was out of the car and at least indirectly launched toward a pit reporter. More should be expected from a former Cup champion.

Busch is no stranger to issues brought on by his mouth. He lost his job at Roush in 2005, while he was the reigning Cup champion, when he was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and verbally abused the arresting officer. Roush put him out of the car for the last two races of the season and he moved on to Penske Racing for the following year. This season has been a litany of diatribes for the senior driver at Penske. Busch famously ripped everyone from Roger Penske to his hauler driver and everyone in between at Richmond over his belief that the team was headed in the wrong direction. While that outburst did seem to invigorate the company and resulted in changes that led to both drivers under the Penske banner making the Chase, things spiraled out of control since the Chase started.

Busch has been incredulous since his win at Dover in the third race of the Chase. Since that point in time he’s recorded three finishes in the thirties and has been extremely vocal about his team’s shortfalls all along the way. With the obvious turmoil behind the scenes that has resulted in his crew chief Steve Addington announcing his departure now that the season is over, Busch was certainly on edge heading into Homestead and his transmission failure certainly had to push him to the edge of the breaking point.

While Busch was obviously not in a good mood and his season had come to a less than satisfactory end, he was probably also looking ahead to the idea of returning to the track and logging laps 30 or more laps behind the leaders. With that gloomy outlook the last thing he probably wanted to do was an interview for television. With the producers taking so long to have Punch start the interview Busch was no doubt fuming more and more as he had to stand in front of cameras waiting to answer questions about yet another bad result.

With all of that considered Busch still should have handled the situation with a little more aplomb. It is no secret that Busch doesn’t hold the media in the highest of regards after nearly coming to blows with a media member at Richmond and subsequently tearing up a transcript when it was presented to him to refute his denial of something he said. However, that still does not give him the right to hurl obscenities at one of the most respected members of the media who could not control the timing of the interview.

While Busch is responsible for his actions, there is blame to be placed on other parties besides the 2004 Cup champion. The producers of the race broadcast should be held partly accountable for the situation as well. One of the beauties of NASCAR racing is that the fans are allowed to hear from the participants seconds after something occurs during the events. When something negative has occurred it is up to the producers to make the call to the pit reporter as soon as possible once the driver has been secured for the interview.

The people putting on Sunday’s broadcast were obviously hoping for a meltdown type of moment when they attempted to get an interview with Busch, knowing that he was prone to verbal explosions, because he was not in contention for the title and had not been a pre-race favorite. Once Busch was available for the interview the call should have been made for Punch to begin the interview so that Busch could get on with whatever tantrum he was headed into the hauler to throw. Instead they left him standing around for an extended period of time and eventually lost the interview altogether. Therefore, some of the blame has to be placed on the shoulders of the producers of the broadcast.

There also needs to be some blame directed toward Punch. Working on pit road during a race can be extremely hectic. Storylines are incredibly dynamic and the three or four pit reporters have to cover 10-15 pits each so, when something happens, an all out sprint will usually ensue to get to the story. There is also a constant din that makes hearing and even thinking difficult.

That said, the question that Punch asked to spark the outburst was patently stupid. Busch was barely into the race when his transmission detonated, spewing parts on the track, and possibly causing damage to the front grill of championship contender Tony Stewart. He was clearly upset with the fact that his race was already in the toilet and then he was hit with the question from Punch that basically asked if he felt like his transmission parts had damaged the car of Stewart and possibly ruined his championship hopes.

There is no way that Busch can control what the parts that fall off of his car do nor can he be expected to form an opinion about what happened behind his car on the track. Adding on the potential of ruining a fellow competitor’s championship hopes was simply unnecessary and designed to invoke a hostile response. Jerry Punch has been around the sport long enough to know better than to ask a question like that of anyone, let alone someone with the temper of Kurt Busch after he was just taken out of a race by another failure from his car.

Kurt Busch should be ashamed of himself and he needs to take a long, hard look at how he treats people while he is enjoying the off season. There are certain standards of behavior that are expected for Cup champions and Busch has spoken to that fact in the past when he was questioned about being an ambassador for the sport after winning the 2004 Cup title. His actions are not only affecting himself and his team, but they’re affecting Penske Racing and they’re affecting the sport in general. It isn’t acceptable to act like a petulant child when you’re a professional who is afforded television time based on your occupation. Plus, the folks in the production truck at ESPN along with Dr. Punch need to take the time to apologize to Busch for dropping the ball when they asked him to be available for an interview.

When it is all said and done, Busch needs to get his act together or start looking for another job because there won’t be too many people left who want to talk to him, let alone work with him. Being a public figure comes with a certain amount of responsibility and being a Cup champion comes with even more.

Now is the time for Busch to realize that and come back next season with the proper attitude and an apology to everyone who has put up with him this season.

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