|Busch is in demand once again|
The Las Vegas native was all upside when he burst onto the NASCAR scene with Roush Racing in 2000, winning four races en route to a second-place championship finish as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie. Just four years later, he was NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series champion, despite an intense, outspoken personality that often made him the subject of controversy, both on and off the race track.
Less than a year after claiming NASCAR’s most coveted prize, Busch was fired by Roush with two races remaining in the 2005 campaign, after directing verbal abuse at Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff’s deputies while being cited for criminal reckless driving.
He had already announced plans to jump to rival Penske Racing the following season, and the outburst prompted his early release. ''It's the last straw for Roush Racing,'' said Roush Racing president Geoff Smith at the time. ''We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today.''
His tenure at Penske Racing was equally combative, with frequent, public criticism of his team and teammates. An obscene gesture made toward First Lady Michelle Obama's motorcade in the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was followed by a profanity-laced tirade directed at ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch. Video of the expletive-filled meltdown went viral on the internet, earned Busch a $50,000 fine from NASCAR and public reprimands from Penske Racing and their sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil.
|Busch is all business in 2012|
Busch and Penske parted company at the end of the 2011 campaign, with Penske Corporation Senior Vice President Bud Denker saying, “We have been working with problems and issues in the past (and) as we looked at 2012 and beyond, it was time to move on.''
The dismissal inspired Busch to do some much-needed soul searching. He enlisted the services of a sports psychologist to help harness his self-destructive tendencies and promised “to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person.
“I need to put the fun back in racing,” said Busch in late 2011, and while many doubted his sincerity at the time, he appears to have done exactly that.
After racing for underfunded Phoenix Racing last season, Busch has exceeded all expectations in 2012. He has surged to ninth in the championship standings with the single-car Furniture Row Racing team; an operation that had never finished better than 24th in its nine-year Cup Series history. Despite not visiting Victory Lane, Busch has become a serious threat for a spot in the 2013 Chase, forging an impressive 2012 resume that is devoid of controversy, upheaval and unhappiness.
The 2004 Cup Series champion has been as good as his word, becoming a better racer, a better teammate and a better human being. He has handled periodic pit road problems (and the occasional on-track issue) with a level of calm, tact and composure that has not gone unnoticed in the Sprint Cup Series garage.
Last week, reports surfaced that Stewart Haas Racing has offered to field a fourth Sprint Cup Chevrolet for Busch in 2014. It is the kind offer he could only have dreamed of a year ago, and he will be hard-pressed to find a better seat, anywhere in NASCAR. With chassis, engines and technological support from Hendrick Motorsports and a billionaire co-owner apparently willing to finance the ride out of his own pocket, SHR represents the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that cannot (and will not) be ignored.
With Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser still not offering Busch a contract extension for 2014, his decision becomes simpler still.
Talent like Busch’s cannot be taught, but it can be bought, and SHR co-owner Gene Hass is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to add another of NASCAR’s top thoroughbreds to his stable.
"I never want to take for granted that it's a privilege to earn a living as a NASCAR driver,” said Busch in December of 2011. Today, it appears he may once again be able to do so, at the very highest level.