Perhaps I am in the minority here, but I think Kurt Busch gets a bad rap. And yes, I did see the last twenty minutes at Darlington. As soon as Busch scrapped the wall with about ten laps to go, I promptly dialed up the scanner to No. 51, because I had a funny feeling something was about to happen.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
What followed sounded a bit more like a Mel Gibson rant rather than a conversation between a driver and his crew. By the final restart, his voice was hoarse from screaming and voicing the frustrations of both himself and his team as well. Here’s a low-budget operation with his owner’s construction company sometimes on the car, when it’s not clad in cougar graphics to help draw some attention to it to secure sponsorship.
While that may be funny, what’s not funny is when a small team like this is literally racing week to week, yet had top-10 – and nearly top-5 – runs going down to the wire in the race. At Talladega, Busch received an off-centered push from former teammate Brad Keselowski. At Darlington, he had driven up as high as fourth in the race. Late in the going, he was running seventh before bouncing the car off the wall, which resulted in a flat tire. The flat tire lead to several more meetings with the wall, and an eventual crash on the backstretch with Ryan Newman.
I think Kurt is a bit of an easy target. Everybody enjoys kicking somebody when they’re down, and it’s common knowledge that he has a bit of a temper. He lost his ride with Penske Racing largely due to Busch not exactly being Mr. Personality with highly respected long-time NASCAR reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, and his radio antics which are now the thing of legend. You know he’s going to go off and pepper his communications with some well-placed expletives and salty observations. The faux shock, awe, and disgust from some fans is a little hard to swallow. Had it been an Earnhardt exchange they heard, it would be roundly revered and celebrated.
What nobody will admit to though is that many times, it’s justified.
Last year, Penske Racing was out to lunch on anything outside of a restrictor plate track. Brad Keselowski was mired in points and rarely a threat to crack the top-10. Busch’s No. 22 would start out strong, but then immediately fade throughout the race and not make any progress. It wasn’t until a 400-lap long lambasting at Richmond did changes occur within Penske, and performance begin to turn around. During the summer months, the No. 22 won at Infineon Raceway, was going door-to-door with the No. 48 and flustering Five-Time, while Brad Keselowski with his broken foot suddenly became the hottest thing in NASCAR until the advent of a Montoya-ized jet dryer at Daytona.
This season, the 2004 Sprint Cup Champion is driving a car that last year was helmed by Landon Cassill, and despite wiping out three cars in Daytona (including a Nationwide car), they had put together back to back legitimate top-10 runs at drastically different race tracks. If you’re looking for a reason to melt down in the midst of reviving your career, now would be the perfect time to do it. No, I don’t approve of the burnout that sent some of the No. 39 guys scattering, but I’d hold off on the “he almost killed someone” hysterics that followed from some as it did when he pulled up next to Tony Stewart at Dover in 2007, after Smoke pushed him down the length of the frontstretch in the door.
Hopefully the No. 51 team can get things turned around and have a little bit of good luck come their way, for the sake of their 18 employees, James Finch, and for the mental health and stability of Kurt Busch. Its drivers like Kurt, his brother, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., that help keep the sport interesting during times of limited action and actual racing. They cut lunch, shoot you straight, and you never have to question what they’re thinking, who they’re mad at, and if they care – and are just out there pulling a pay check.
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