FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Busch finally went too far for NASCAR, even in the era of "Boys, have at it."
The often volatile Busch was barred Saturday from driving in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Texas this weekend, a rare step taken by NASCAR after he deliberately wrecked championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. during a caution in the Truck Series on Friday night.
On Saturday night, Busch issued a letter in which he said he wanted to "sincerely apologize" to fans, his sponsors, Hornaday and his team, as well everybody associated with Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports.
"I understand why I was taken out of the car for the rest of the weekend. NASCAR officials had to act, and I accept their punishment and take full responsibility for my actions," Busch wrote. "As a racecar driver, the hardest thing to do is to sit on the sidelines listening to cars on the track when you know you should be out there competing. For this, I have no one to blame but myself."
NASCAR President Mike Helton announced the penalty Saturday morning after a meeting with Busch and Joe Gibbs, his Sprint Cup and Nationwide car owner.
"The responsibility that over the past two or three seasons we've given back to the drivers came I think with a very clear understanding that there could be a line that got crossed," Helton said. "And as annoying as the comments that I've made personally in the past about we'll know it when we see it might have been, we saw it last night."
Busch is the first driver since Robby Gordon in August 2007 to be taken out of a Cup race for actions in another NASCAR race the same weekend. Kevin Harvick, the owner of Hornaday's truck, was kept out of the Cup race at Martinsville in 2002 after an incident in a truck race there the previous day.
"This is a tough situation for us and basically what we're trying to do is go through it the right way," Gibbs said. "Everybody here with our race team is trying to meet with everybody that was affected by this and obviously we've got a lot of work to do there and a lot of people to see. But we're going to try to go through this and try to handle everything in the right way."
Michael McDowell will take over in Sunday's race for Busch, seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings.
Denny Hamlin, another Gibbs driver, took over Busch's Nationwide seat Saturday and finished second after having to start at the back of the field.
Helton didn't rule out more penalties for Busch after the weekend, but said not letting him race shows how serious NASCAR felt about what happened Friday night.
"The rarity of those times that we'd make a step like this speak to the uniqueness and the severity of the topic," Helton said.
Gibbs said he hadn't had time to determine whether Busch would face additional penalties from the team. The owner met with Busch in the driver's motor home, but didn't share what was said.
"It's one of those personal conversations you have when a real tough situation like this comes up," Gibbs said.
Harvick said there has to be an end to the retaliation piece of the "Boys, have at it" mantra.
"Whether it's Kyle Busch or anybody else. This is not late model racing. I mean, this is professional stock car racing," Harvick said Saturday. "We all make mistakes. We all do things sometimes out of character. You know if things continue to progress, we're going to hurt somebody."
Hornaday was knocked out of Friday night's truck race on the 14th of 148 laps when Busch retaliated for contact between them by pushing the four-time champion into the wall. The trucks made contact after trying to go three-wide around a slower truck and both brushed the wall.
Busch, driving a truck he owns, got behind Hornaday and kept pushing until the No. 33 truck wound up in the wall. NASCAR immediately parked Busch then, and officials met with him briefly after that race before telling him to come back Saturday morning.
"I lost my cool, no doubt about it. I've been wrecked four weeks in a row, and I've had enough of it, and I retaliated," Busch said by his hauler after the wreck Friday night. "So it's certainly my fault for doing that. If everybody wants to say, 'Hornaday is racing for a championship, roll over,' that's not my fashion. That's not anybody else's fashion out here."
Hornaday dropped from third to fourth in points, his deficit increasing from 15 to 48 with only one race left.
After the race, Hornaday said he'd be "really upset" if NASCAR didn't park Busch. He also said he'd be at Busch's house Monday morning if NASCAR didn't handle the situation.
This wasn't Busch's first trouble with NASCAR, even this year, though Helton said earlier issues weren't a big factor in the penalty this weekend.
"I won't sit here and tell you that it's not an influence, but it's not an overriding influence," Helton said. "The reaction we're talking about today came more specifically from the set of circumstances that unfolded last night in the single event."
Busch was on probation earlier this season following a post-race, pit-road confrontation at Darlington with Harvick, a driver for Richard Childress Racing.
While driving on a North Carolina street in May, Busch was cited for careless and reckless driving, and speeding after driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone. He later lost his North Carolina driver's license for 45 days as part of sentence that included a $1,000 fine, 30 hours of community service and a year of unsupervised probation.
After a truck race at Kansas Speedway in June, there were undenied reports that Childress punched Busch in the garage area.
Busch had contact with Elliott Sadler during a Bristol truck race in August, then intentionally wrecked Sadler a few minutes later as retaliation. Sadler drives for Harvick in the Nationwide Series.
During the Cup race in Texas last fall, Busch was penalized three laps — the first for speeding on pit road and two more for flashing an obscene gesture through his windshield at the NASCAR official who signaled the infraction while standing in front of Busch's car.
Harvick was the winner in the 2007 Nationwide race at Montreal after a controversial finish that led to Gordon not being allowed to drive in the Cup race the following day at Pocono. Officials ruled Marcos Ambrose was intentionally knocked out of the race by Gordon, who then refused to forfeit his track position before NASCAR quit scoring him even though he crossed the finish line before Harvick.
At Martinsville in 2002, Harvick was already on probation when he tangled with Coy Gibbs during a truck race there and eventually spun out the Gibbs truck. NASCAR kept Harvick out of the Cup race the next day.
"It was definitely an eye opener, to say the least," Harvick said. "Fortunately, I had sponsors that stuck around. It was one of those moments where you know you have to get your stuff together. You realize it's not just about you driving the car. There's a professional atmosphere to it. We all still forget that and still let the competitor's mindset get into your head as we go through situations, and it's not easy. You definitely learn from it."