Last week I came out in support of NASCAR’s suspension of Kurt Busch at Pocono because I thought it was long overdue and probably the lone sanction that might wake him up to the gravity of his situation.
Nobody, with the possible exception of Kurt, knows yet if that got through to him or not, but time will tell. However, Kurt should count himself extremely fortunate for the second chance James Finch has given him. Kurt also should be equally appreciative of the fact Finch stated that everything will remain between the two of them. This soap opera will no longer play out in the public arena.
We don’t and won’t know what Kurt has to do to keep his ride. We won’t know what he might have to do to make amends with his team. We won’t know what, if anything, he might have to do to show his remorse to Bob Pockrass or anyone else he has wronged. We won’t know what Kurt has to do to rectify his personal problems, rehab his image and prove himself to Finch or potential sponsors. All we will know in the coming weeks is whether he behaves and performs on the track, and quite honestly, that’s really all we need to know.
I applaud Finch for doing this all behind closed doors and not sharing with everyone the parameters and plans he might have set in front of Kurt. That is the best environment for Kurt. Finch is handling this predicament the right way, and the best thing for Kurt is to lie low and keep his nose to the ground. Keep the drama to a minimum and get out of the headlines.
If he doesn’t like a reporter’s question, he shouldn’t show emotion or displeasure; simply say “no comment.” I’d highly advise his polite refusal to answer questions that might send him off the deep end. Kurt must remove himself from the conversation for the next couple of months and let the media attention die down. People will continue to ask him about his problems, and if those inquiries upset him, he should politely decline to answer them.
He has the bigger picture to focus on – his future in NASCAR. I don’t know what Finch said to him on Tuesday, but I’d have to guess he won’t stand for another outburst like Kurt unleashed at Dover or for Kurt’s weekly verbal abuse of his crew over the team radio. There is a lot on the line for Kurt and he’s walking a fine line between second chances and the door. Where would he go if Finch cut him loose?
Busch was hoping to use 2012 to showcase his talent and post solid results in equipment that can’t necessarily compete with that of the Gibbs, Roush, Hendrick and Childress teams. Conventional wisdom said that if Kurt ran well with Phoenix Racing and conquered the behavioral problem of past years, top-tier teams would consider him for 2013 because he had proven himself in lesser equipment. However, his behavior this year has distanced him from that goal, and getting a shot at a top seat now appears unlikely because so many big-name drivers already have been thrust into the rumor mill as free agents – Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, for example.
Kurt remains too much of a risk for most sponsors when they could have Newman or Logano. Those guys are more predictable when it comes to their behavior and interaction with the media, and in some cases, I think a driver’s positive image and marketability carry more weight with some sponsors than on-track performance. There is no doubt Kurt can deliver performance, but you never know when he might unravel again, and to many corporations, that’s too great a potential detriment to their company.
However, if Kurt can take these next few weeks, concentrate on his personal issues and prove he can conduct himself to sponsors’ standards, then maybe he’ll get another look. Time does heal all wounds as long as the same mistakes aren’t perpetuated.
What’s so ironic in all this is Kurt really is a nice guy away from the race track. He can be a sponsor’s dream when he wants – I’ve seen him do fabulous jobs at sponsor events and appearances. But he absolutely must control himself on the track, in the car, over the team radio and in interviews.
Maybe that starts with fading from the spotlight for a few weeks. Don’t use the team radio as a forum for temper tantrums, lie low and only grant interviews when calm, cool and collected. If necessary, substitute a few “no comments” for some of those f-bombs. Saying nothing is much more beneficial to him than saying something he might regret.
If Kurt returns to the point where we’re talking about his success on the track instead of his behavior, then we’ll know last week’s suspension got through to him. And that’s really all we need to know.
Jimmy Spencer calls it like he sees it on NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED. He retired from driving with two NASCAR Sprint Cup, 12 NASCAR Nationwide and one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory, putting him in an elite group of drivers who have logged wins in all three of NASCAR’s premier divisions. In 478 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, Spencer amassed 28 top-five and 80 top-10 finishes. He won back-to-back NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships in 1986 and 1987 on the heels of 15 victories, becoming the first driver ever to earn consecutive titles in the series. He earned the nickname “Mr. Excitement” for his flamboyant and aggressive driving style early in his racing career.