Wednesday, December 28, 2011
COMMENTARY: Is JGR Justified In Removing Busch From Nationwide, Trucks?
Kyle Busch Motorsports has fielded one of the most successful Truck Series operations in recent years, with Busch winning six times in just 16 series starts last season. KBM will field Toyotas on the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time in 2012, and initial plans called for Busch to compete regularly in both Nationwide and Trucks, in addition to his full-time Sprint Cup championship effort with Gibbs. But KBM General Manager Rick Ren confirmed last week that Busch will probably not run any Truck Series races in 2012, and may not compete in the Nationwide Series either; all at the request of JGR.
Since that announcement, Sirius-Speedway.com has hosted a lively debate on the topic, with Kyle Busch fans protesting what they consider unfair treatment of Busch by JGR and its sponsor M&Ms, while Busch’s detractors argue that he got what he deserved.
The debate raises some interesting questions about just how much control a team should have over its driver; both on and off the race track. There is no doubt that both JGR and M&Ms were damaged when Busch wrecked Ron Hornaday under caution at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch was parked by NASCAR and not allowed to take part in that weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race, with substitute driver Michael McDowell finishing a disappointing 33rd. In light of the controversy that followed, M&Ms chose to remove itself from JGR’s #18 Toyota for the final two races of the season at Phoenix and Homestead, costing them exposure and the team money. Busch’s Texas ban – and two more bad days at Phoenix and Homestead – dropped him to 12th in the final championship standings; resulting in another significant financial blow to the team.
Does Joe Gibbs Racing have the right to restrict Kyle Busch’s participation in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series? As an employer that pays him millions of dollars each year to drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- dollars that almost certainly helped finance the construction and continued operation of Kyle Busch Motorsports – is JGR within its rights to have Busch race only for them in 2012?
For the record, Joe Gibbs has not always restricted his drivers to the Sprint Cup Series, or even to NASCAR. Tony Stewart is notorious for racing Sprint Cars and midgets on off weekends from Sprint Cup competition, and Kasey Kahne raised a few eyebrows by flipping a 410 Sprint Car out of the park at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway last summer.
In the past, other team owners have also requested that their drivers avoid taking part in non-Sprint Cup Series events. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon rarely compete in the Nationwide and Truck Series, honoring team owner Rick Hendrick’s wish that they concentrate on their Sunday jobs and not endanger themselves by taking part in other forms of racing.
None of us expect him to do so.
My bosses here at MRN Radio do not allow me to work for other motorsports media outlets; a restriction I consider to be both fair and reasonable. Joe Gibbs Racing seems to be asking the same of Kyle Busch. At the very least, Joe and JD Gibbs seem to want Busch to drive JGR equipment – and only JGR equipment -- next season. That way, if he does something goofy that jeopardizes their team and its sponsors, at least he'll have done it on their watch.