So here’s a question. If Furniture Row Racing asks nicely, can they get Regan Smith back for a few more weeks? After all, the rumor mill is swirling that one Kurt Busch may be facing his second suspension of the 2012 season after the weekend’s race at Talladega. Busch, who got dumped in traffic after running out of fuel in the draft, ended up driving his wrecked car away from first responders, who not only had their equipment stashed on the roof of the wrecked machine, but were also visibly working and communicating inside the race car.
Frankly, if NASCAR can suspend Kurt Busch because he got annoyed with a reporter, they damn well better park the guy after Sunday. I don’t care how impassioned a speech Busch gave post-race about how his competitive streak compelled him to try and wheel his wrecked race car back to the garage so his team could work on it. There is absolutely no excuse for driving away from the scene of a crash once the first responders get there. Putting their safety at risk (and yes, it was at risk, watch the replays of the response team having to rush away from the moving car) and strewing their equipment all over the backstretch is more unacceptable than any words directed towards reporters ever could be.
No need for a column-long analysis here. And frankly I couldn’t care less that Busch didn’t listen to NASCAR’s command to stop. But driving off with rescue workers’ hands in the race car, that boils my blood (I’m admittedly biased, coming from a family of first responders).
While Busch’s remarks regarding his competitive streak and his apparent sainthood as a race car driver echoed with all the sincerity of a Bobby Petrino press conference, he did hit the nail on the head in post-race remarks Sunday when he noted that he’s put himself into a lot of the situations that have cratered his career. Case in point, Talladega.
Then again, there is apparently no need for Busch to learn a lesson and stop doing stupid things. Despite the fact that Busch has demonstrated zero improvement in terms of maturity or composure even after losing a premier ride at Penske Racing solely because he was a hothead, he’s been a full-time Cup driver all season long, and now has a fully sponsored ride in place for 2013.
The story behind Busch landing Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 car is questionable enough. He’s replacing Regan Smith, the one driver that managed to lift a team that’s been a model in futility on the Cup circuit into a Southern 500 championship team just a season ago. Veteran Kenny Wallace couldn’t do that. Veteran Joe Nemechek couldn’t do that. But for all that accomplishment, Smith was shown the door for a driver that, albeit a Cup champion, has made headlines for nothing short of his language or antics over the past year.
Why should Busch change his behavior? He was stupid enough to run his mouth at a respected member of the media corps scarcely six months after getting the old heave-ho at Penske Racing for doing the exact same thing, yet his team voted to keep him on-board. (Author’s note: I don’t for one second believe that Busch should have been suspended for his remarks at Dover this spring, but I don’t want to be the guy trying to sell sponsors on a driver dumb enough to make the same mistake on camera twice either).
His talent as a race car driver sold Furniture Row Racing on replacing the most successful driver the team has had at any level in their history. Never mind the fact that that talent translated into nothing more than has already been done with Phoenix Racing equipment. Sure, Busch won a Nationwide race for the team. So have Jeff Purvis, Randy LaJoie, Jimmy Spencer, Jamie McMurray, Johnny Sauter and Mike Bliss.
Sure, Busch had moments of brilliance with the team’s Cup level program. That’s hardly unique either. Johnny Sauter led the Coca-Cola 600 with the former No. 09 team. Both Mike Wallace and Johnny Sauter scored top 10 finishes with the team on downforce tracks (Richmond, Phoenix). Wallace nearly won the Daytona 500 with the team. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with the team. Flashes of brilliance have long been a staple for Phoenix Racing, even if they were sandwiched between loads of start-and-parks or 26th place finishes.
And leaving the No. 51 team, Busch leaves the squad 27th in owner points. A whopping three positions better than what Landon Cassill managed to pull off a season ago.
That’s what Furniture Row Racing is signing up for. A driver that for all his talent has demonstrated a complete inability to improve a mediocre ride. A driver that for all his talent has proven unable to live down the bad habit of overdriving a car to the point of wrecking it. A driver that secured next to no sponsor dollars even over the course of nearly a full season with Phoenix Racing. And a driver that despite ending on bad terms with two of NASCAR’s powerhouses still apparently requires the team he races for to act as an apologist.
One can only hope NASCAR has the balls to park this guy even without a shocking videoclip of a tirade to go with it this time. Because if the story of Kurt Busch is any indication, NASCAR’s ownership circle isn’t going to teach him anything.