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Monday, December 5, 2011

Penske expected to fire Kurt Busch; and Kurt has no one to blame but himself

Kurt Busch has a lot to think about right now.

Reports are he is out at Penske Racing. Apparently the temper tantrums have gone on too long, and Roger Penske is parting ways with the ever-cantankerous elder Busch brother.

His rants on the radio are legendary, including arguments with the Captain himself, his pit crew, and most recently a expletive-laden tirade against veteran reporter Dr. Jerry Punch that went viral on YouTube (thanks to an intrepid young man who recorded it and put it online).

No doubt sponsors got involved, and companies like Shell and Pennzoil were not too happy about being associated with a guy so prone to going off the rails at a moment’s notice, and Penske appears to have made the right call – dumping the problematic driver. After all, you can find another good driver more easily than you can find another paying sponsor – that’s the plain and honest truth in today’s racing world (And this may open the eyes of other drivers who think they’re “too big to fire”).

Rumors are already rampant that Kurt will be replaced at Penske Racing by David Ragan, for whom the funding has not yet been found for a return to Roush in 2012. If so, Penske will have positioned itself as an up-and-coming team, with hot young drivers Brad Keselowki and Ragan taking on the bigger multicar teams that have traditionally dominated the Cup series.

Getting back to Kurt, I’d like to get a little philosophical here – and say that this is an example of reaping what you sow.

Just like everything else in life, when you act inappropriately, there are consequences. Sometimes they come right away, and sometimes it takes a while.

Kurt’s temper issues go back to before his time in a Penske car even started. Roush removed Kurt from his last ride a few races early, after an incident in Arizona where Kurt was allegedly mouthing off to an officer who pulled him over (in a sort of ‘do you know who I am?’ routine). So Penske kind of knew what he was getting at the start.

In good times, when the car ran well, Kurt was a happy guy. But when it wasn’t, hide the kids because he’s about to go off. Once famous exchange between Kurt and Roger Penske himself had people wondering at the time: How does the Captain put up with this crap?

For the past several years, Kurt’s crew chiefs have endured his ridiculous tantrums. When he doesn’t get his way, Kurt’s going to cry. Other drivers get mad, and might go back and forth with their crew chiefs, but Kurt’s raging was on another level. Instead of discussing what was going on with the car and trying to figure things out so it could improve, he would just whine.

The final straw may have been the ESPN video, but if that hadn’t happened, something else would have made this firing a reality. Or maybe, unbeknownst to any of us, this was in the plans all along, and Roger was just waiting for the end of the year to announce it.

Either way, Kurt has to really think about his attitude as he looks to the future. He is seeing a sports psychologist, but his issues go beyond the racetrack. I recognize that in life many things will make everyone angry, or even enraged, but that does not excuse treating people the way Kurt does when he throws his temper tantrums. Between his battles with the press (including ripping up the notes of a reporter who simply repeated a quote he said), and the antics described above, there’s clearly a lot of anger management work to do here.

One thing’s for sure: Wherever Kurt Busch lands (and he will find some place to drive, considering he is a past champion and is guaranteed a starting spot in the races), it’s a safe bet he won’t have equipment as solid as Roger Penske offered him the past several years. All the top teams’ lineups are pretty set right now, unless he could find a new sponsor and bring them with him to a new fourth team at Gibbs or Childress – a highly unlikely scenario so late in the year.

So getting back to the theme – Kurt is reaping what he has sown. His actions will leave him less competitive next year, and should make him think real hard about how his temper and his words are having an effect on his life, both personally and professionally.

If he has any common sense, we’re likely to see the 2012 edition of Kurt Busch be a little more measured, a little more willing to discuss rather than yell, and a little more appreciative of what he has.

After all, he does drive a racecar for a living. Even if things aren’t perfect, there’s a lot to be thankful for, considering the real problems some people in the world are facing.

Hopefully he’ll realize that when he’s running in 25th next year and thinking about what could have been at Penske.

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