Sunday, November 06, 2011

Busch Faces Turning Point In NASCAR Career

Few drivers in the history of NASCAR have been more controversial, more polarizing than Kyle Busch.

In terms of sheer physical ability, there is no debate that Busch is among the greatest ever to twist a steering wheel. His car control and ability to wring every molecule of speed from his mounts is beyond dispute, and if sheer speed and talent were all it takes, the Las Vegas native would already be a multi-time Sprint Cup Series champion, at the age of 26.

Unfortunately, there is more to winning at NASCAR’s highest level than sheer speed. Sprint Cup racing is in many ways a mental game, requiring ample doses of composure, focus, restraint and self-control. On those counts, Busch falls far short of the goal. Never has that fact been more apparent than on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

After early contact with championship contender Ron Hornaday, Jr., Busch lost his cool Friday, intentionally shoving the four-time series champion into the wall at 130-mph, while under caution. Busch toyed with Hornaday like a cat toys with a mouse. Not content to simply end Hornaday’s race, he pushed the No. 33 Chevrolet for hundreds of yards before finally hooking it head-first into the outside wall. It was as if Busch wanted Hornaday to contemplate his fate before sentence was served.

Every driver loses his cool from time to time. There were dozens of examples of that last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Busch’s outburst Friday was more than a simple loss of emotional control, however. It revealed something darker and more disturbing lurking somewhere deep in Busch’s psyche. That fact was not lost on NASCAR officials, who parked him for the remainder of the weekend.

While Busch drove for himself Friday, NASCAR’s decision to bar him from competition severely impacted the Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series teams. Team owner Joe Gibbs claimed responsibility for the incident Saturday, saying, “It definitely rests with me. When you own something… you’re responsible.” It was a statement many in the industry feel was too long in coming.

Renowned for running a tight ship during his tenure as coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Gibbs has been remarkably lenient in the handling of his NASCAR drivers. Tony Stewart served as NASCAR’s resident bad boy during his time in the JGR stable, repeatedly testing the patience of team members and straining relations with sponsors. Interestingly, Stewart’s behavior improved dramatically when he left the Gibbs camp to become part-owner of his own team, Stewart Haas Racing.

Gibbs admitted Saturday that he has some fence-mending to do with Mars; parent company of M&Ms. Sources say this is far from the first such meeting, and Mars -- a decidedly conservative company with a youth-oriented demographic – reportedly insisted on a clause in Busch’s contract allowing them to terminate their relationship if the driver acts in a manner they consider to be damaging or extreme.

M&Ms has stood behind Busch through numerous bouts of bad publicity in the past. But there is a limit to what they – or any sponsor – can be expected to endure. The company issued a statement today, saying, "The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of M&M'S and we're very disappointed. Like you, we hold those who represent our brand to a higher standard and we have expressed our concerns directly to Joe Gibbs Racing."

There are winning, championship-caliber drivers with no sponsorship in place for the 2012 Sprint Cup season, and clearly, M&Ms is tied to Busch and JGR for only as long as their tolerance for misbehavior endures.

Now, the good news.

No matter what you read in certain corners of the internet, Kyle Busch is not a monster. At worst, he is a complex, driven, sometimes-flawed man who currently does not possess the emotional and psychological skills needed to compete successfully in one of the most emotionally charged sports on the planet.

Nearly two years ago, I spoke one-on-one with Busch about the latest in a then series of race day clashes with his Joe Gibbs Racing team. The conversation was unlike any I had ever experienced with the normally guarded driver. He spoke freely, emotionally and from the heart, saying he deeply regretted being a negative influence on his team and the sport. “I know I hurt this team sometimes,” he admitted. “In the heat of battle, my emotions get the better of me, and I say and do things that damage my team and my sponsors. Ten minutes later, I realize what I’ve done and feel terrible about it. I go to the shop on Monday and apologize to everyone, but I realize that saying, `I’m sorry’ is not good enough.

“I know I have to change, and I’m trying really hard to do that.”

In fairness, Busch has shown improvement. His Dec. 31, 2010 marriage to the former Samantha Sarcinella has given the mercurial driver a safe harbor; someone to share his thoughts, fears and troubles with, possibly for the first time in his life. There have admittedly been missteps along the way, but most observers agree that until last week, 2011 had been the calmest, least tumultuous season of Busch’s NASCAR career.

Busch released an “open letter” to sponsors, fans, team members and others Saturday. The letter did not have the polish or feel of a document crafted by the Joe Gibbs Racing Public Relations Department. It spoke in simple, common language, providing another rare glimpse into Busch’s mind, heart and soul.

“I've had a lot of time today to sit and reflect, and try to put my thoughts into words as best I can,” wrote Busch. “I want to sincerely apologize for my actions during Friday night's Truck Series race at Texas. I apologize to my fans, all my sponsors, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports. Even though this took place while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, I am sorry for how difficult this has been for everyone associated with Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series teams.”

Busch apologized to Hornaday and his No. 33 team, and said he understands why he was sidelined for the remainder of the weekend. “NASCAR officials had to act,” wrote Busch. “I accept their punishment and take full responsibility for my actions. I feel like I've made a lot of strides this year, but this was certainly a step backward. Moving forward, I will do everything I possibly can to represent everyone involved in a positive manner. However, I know my long-term actions will have more of a bearing than anything I say right now.”

Friday’s incident -- and a weekend spent watching NASCAR instead of competing in it – will hopefully provide the wake-up call Busch needs to set himself straight. The driver admitted as much in his open letter, writing, “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.”

Whether Busch is truly willing to address his emotional and psychological issues remains to be seen. There are resources at his disposal, should he choose to avail himself of them, but no one can make that decision for him. Can Busch dispatch his personal demons in time to salvage relationships with his sponsors, team and fellow competitors? On that count, the jury is still out. Time is almost certainly short, and it will take more than a simple statement of apology – no matter how genuine and heartfelt – to set things straight.

Kyle Busch has reached a crossroads in his NASCAR career. Handled correctly, Friday night’s events at Texas Motor Speedway may one day qualify as the most important of his career.


  1. I'm sure Mars would like to have Joey in there car instead, and that would open the door for Reutimann to drive the #20 Home Depot car. Sounds good to me.

  2. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Sure hope Samantha never sees that temper. Keep safe girl.

  3. It has long been apparent that he needs 'Anger Management' counceling. I hope he voluntarily attends it. That will be a good starting point.

  4. Anonymous11:37 AM

    Great artical Dave,, Kyle's anger issues are somewhat comparable to a drug addict, hopefully this is his hit bottom in so many words. If this is Kyles hit bottom,, hopefully he can come back with the support of his team and sponsors. Kyle could be a great asset to JGR,M&M's and NASCAR. The only requirement is that Kyle leaves all of his demons at home in a locked box. It's not all his desision now, the repair of his anger issues will depend on JGR and M&M's. If he dosen't have the support of his piers I think he will end up in the truck series until he blows that. Hopefully he can beat the demonds inside his head, he is a remarkable talent. It would be a shame for all of his talent to go to waste.

  5. Anonymous11:43 AM

    You have to be joking right. Put Logano in the 18 car is not happening. He hasn't got the skill set to run the 20 and do you think m&m wants a person who even Home Depot want to get rid of.
    M&m has made millions off of Kyle Busch and so he gets hot under the collar every once in awhile because of the form of racing he is in. If they remove him because of this then Carl Edwards should loose his sponsorship for the Brad incident. He sat in the car for over 30 laps and and was still intent on hurting Brad.
    But we are talking about Kyle right, he seems to be put under a microscope when it come to his racing. What a shame that only in the US do the reporters and fans destroy a great racing career because they like to pretend he hits everything on the track.

  6. Anonymous11:59 AM

    First, I am a fan of Kyle.
    Second, he should be released by Mars and JGR.
    I heard Kyle's spotter plead with him not to wreck the 33. I put my head in my hands when I saw what was about to happen Friday night... I waited... Then I heard the crash. The best driver in NASCAR again wrecked his reputation an his team. We thought, and we hoped, that Kyle was on the right track.
    Hopefully this will be the rock bottom that Kyle needs to right himself.
    This is NASCAR, where being fast is not the only thing you need to win. Team leadership and representing sponsors are even more important to be successful at this level.
    Still a Kyle fan, but time to grow up. Now.

  7. Anonymous12:08 PM

    wow...there are an alarming number of folks watching nascar who fall in the "just don 't get it" catagory. big difference between the edwards and brad incident and tne recent busch one...most notibly is the " under caution" which is when busch decided to assult hornaday. these folks are much more scary than anyone on the track.

  8. Anonymous12:12 PM

    Thanks for the great article, Dave. I had to have my 12 year old read it as an example. We are trying to get through the same things with him. He is very talented at golf, but the anger and attitude issues will prevent him from getting anywhere with it if we don't beat it.

  9. Anonymous12:24 PM

    I have read wehere many people keep bringing up the Carl and Brad issue. I think the difference is that incident scared the hell out of Carl and he learned. Although he has had a better year, Kyle has not learned. If he hasn't already been doing it, he needs to get with a good sports psychologist as Denny is doing.

  10. Anonymous12:36 PM

    Who else is going to win them 4+ cup races a year let alone what he does in Nationwide wins every other race and all the money he puts back in to NASCAR via KBM!

  11. I to was amazed at what happened and am glad no one was severely physically hurt. But when it happened it made me ask the question "what if". If something terrible had happened to Hornaday could Kyle have been charged with a crime? Do the drivers sign something before they race waiving their rights to file criminal charges. I am not by any means suggesting this situation warrants that, but the malicious intent of this incident had it gone bad would be hard to argue not filing charges.

  12. If your post is not here any longer, it's because you have violated either the "No Profanity" or "No Name Calling" rule. We want to hear what you have to say, but you MUST conduct yourself respectfully.

  13. Melissa Grim1:30 PM

    There is no question that what Kyle did was thoughtless and dangerous; and NASCAR absolutely did the right thing by parking him. I can't help wander if he would have done that to Hornaday if he had been in a different state of mind. What I mean by that is when he was questioned after the incident he said he had been wrecked the last four weeks in a row and he was sick of it. A lot of people assumed he was talking about the truck series, so I checked. He wasn't in the truck in Martinsville Denny was and he won. He finished 9th at Talladega because he lost his drafting partner . He was not in the truck at Las Vegas; and he was not in the truck in Kentucky. However in the cup series he was wrecked at Martinsville and Talladega. Talladega put his championship hopes on life support and Martinsville pulled the plug and buried them. In my opinion I think Kyle was in a bad state because he came into another season with high hopes and expectations and he entered the chase with the most wins again and his chase absolutely disintegrated again. I think he wanted to win the truck race and maybe even sweep the weekend to try and salvage something out of his year and when Hornaday pushed him into the wall, unintentionally of course, he thought his race and his weekend were ruined and we already know his year was a disappointment. I think he just snapped and saw nothing but red. People have mentioned Kyle spotter trying to talk him down, I think short of the spotter flinging himself on Kyle's truck nothing would have stopped him at that point. It was a scary sight and that part of Kyle definitely needs to be addressed and I hope he learns from this weekend and gets the help he needs to be a better competitor. Some people have raised the hypothetical question of would NASCAR have parked him if he was in the hunt for the championship; I will go even further with it and say that if he was in the hunt he wouldn't have reacted the way he did because he would have been in a different state of mind.

  14. Tom McDermott2:00 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Anonymous2:06 PM

    im a kb fan and think nascar did the right thing - same as they did w/ harvick afew yrs back. i do hope he makes the most of this situation, and learns from it positively because hes so exciting to watch when hes behind the wheel of anything hes racing.

  16. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Ban him for a year...fining does not work!

  17. The problem with Kyle Bush is simple. He has an attitude problem, and the racetrack is not the place for him to learn to manage it. He needs to grow up, and if I were NASCAR, I would suspend him the rest of the year.

  18. Anonymous3:28 PM

    NASCAR has let the boys have at it for a while now, showing complete lack of disrespect for each other and doing nothing to stop it. Like Tony Stewart said last week it's about respect. You've got guys like Keselowski calling Kyle an "asshole" at Bristol, you've got Harvick going on a radio show in Atalnta calling Kyle an asshole, you've got Childress beating him up and then mocking the fine NASCAR levies against him, and the santioning body does nothing about it. This battle between KHI/Childress/Busch has been brewing for a while and it finally came to a head. If it had been any other competitor than a Childress/KHI truck that wrecked him on lap 14 I think Kyle would have reacted quite differently.
    I hope some of the older drivers in the series can reach out to Kyle and help him through this because it would be a shame to lose such a great talent over a terrible mistake made.

  19. Scott3:30 PM

    Dave, I just watched the incident on NASCAR replay, and Kyle's immediate post-incident reaction and justification of his actions. Anger management isn't going to help, it was a dumb move on Kyle's part to be on Hornaday's outside as he was making that pass, but he doesn't see it that way. When he uses something like "Kyle Busch style" you have to understand that his attitude and approach toward putting himself, his equipment, and other racers in that situation isn't going to change, which will only lead to more of these situations. The apology didn't come until after NASCAR slapped the penalties on him, and after that post-incident interview I have no doubt that those penalties and attempting to placate fans/sponsors/NASCAR is the only reason that apology materialized.

    Really, how many years has this topic come up with Kyle Busch? I may be wrong, but I can't think of a single year that he hasn't put himself in this situation. For all his actions to try and fix it, we wind up in the same place. Rick Hendrick reached his "enough" point, when do we do the same? For the kind of man I continue reading that Joe Gibbs is, I can't imagine how he puts up with this from a driver. Are wins more important than the character and reputation of your race organization? Are wins more important than the reputation of company's like M&M's and Interstate Batteries? It's a simple question that no one has answered.

  20. Anonymous3:44 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. Again, we are NOT going to be calling each other names here. Posts that do so will be removed! Make your points civilly!

  22. Anonymous6:00 PM

    Great article, Dave.

    Kyle and his brother both have long standing problems with temperament on and off the track, which have interfered with their potential success and cost them success and even rides in the past. There is a reason for this, and no amount of fines, probation or weekends off will get to the root cause of their issues.

    Kyle must get the professional help he needs to deal with his temper issues once and for all, and do it for as long as it takes to overcome the problem.Only then will he have the tools in his head to match his driving talent. Then, and only then, will he realize the potential that so many have written about without the dark side you accurately identified showing its face once again.

    And his brother needs to do the same.

  23. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Where's Jimmy Spencer when you need him?

    Dwayne ~ Memphis

  24. Anonymous8:00 PM

    This has confirmed my thoughts of Mr. Bush. At this point i have thrown all my collectables away just as he,s done his career. M&M,s were my favorite candy.

  25. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Well done, as usual, Dave. I'm in complete agreement about "something dark" in both Bush boys' personalities. Kyle's is more "out there". But I see it with Kurt, too. A friend of mine characterizes it this way: his smile doesn't go all the way up to his eyes.

    Some have said Kyle is like an addict. His behavior strikes me as being more like an abuser. The bad behavior followed by an emotional and "sincere" promise to change followed by more bad behavior. I would also worry about Samantha and I don't think that's overstating. Same with Kurt's significant other.

  26. Anonymous9:05 PM

    Hendrick fired him and if Coach Gibbs doesn't then Mars should. This guy needs some time in a mental ward before he looses that temper on his way to the garage after a fender bender on track and hurts some innocent bystander.

  27. Anonymous9:45 AM

    I appreciate the insightful and fair article on Kyle!

  28. First off, people who come on here and express there opinion using foul inappropriate language are just as bad as Kyle Busch!!! They deserve to be deleted so thank you Dave for letting us express out opinion in a decent well thought out manner!!! I personally think this is a cataclysm of the "boys have at it" attitude that NASCAR has allowed the last few years. Mike Helton says he would know it when the line would be crossed and Kyle Busch crossed it. Really??? I think I wasn't the only one who thought that line was crossed when Car Edwards punted Brad K into the fence at Atlanta or Carl spun him on the last lap at St Louis and he was hit in the drivers door and pounded like a pin ball on the front stretch. Both instances I couldn't believe Brad got out of the car on his own accord and thought both times if NASCAR doesn't do anything now, when are they??? I liken this to my kids and there raising. If I keep letting them get by with murder over and over and each time it gets worse and it the child's fault if they keep it up??? And is it right when it gets to a point when I get a call by the police saying they caught it my kiids doing this and I unload the ultimate punishment on them. Am I sending the right message to my kids?? And listening to the drivers, a lot of them have this mentality that I've got this space around me so you better not cross it or God forbid touch me trying to go around me or there will be Hell to pay!!! This mentality is just warped!! Were going 200 mph on tracks on the verge of losing control or tracks that inches separates all 43 cars, of course there's going to be contact or banging......ITS CALLED RACING!!! But what you saw Friday, other than the aftermath of KB shoving RH into the wall is what we've seen all year. You touch me by God your going in the wall......that's ridiculous and needs to change people!! These drivers who don't want contact or passing needs to look into something else. I think KB will be paying for everybody's sins this year by nasal and afraid will be taken advantage of by all who have been waiting to pounce on him!!! Jena Fryer said it best!!! Thanks Dave, great article. Can't wait to listen to your show today!!!

  29. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Great article, Dave.
    As far as the penalty kyle should have got at Texas for wrecking Hornaday it should have been black flag, restart at the end of the longest line (except his truck was trashed and couldn't). But nothing more. i have seen far worse, specifically Tony Stewart intentionally wreck MattKenseth at Daytona in front of the field and brag about it after the race with just a restart at the end of the longest line. kyle was wrong but come on, they have let all the other drivers get away with it for years

  30. Did anybody see his interview after the crash ?The next day he makes a statement saying he was sorry to Hornaday.This guy has a "Sybil" personality. The crewchief pleaded with him but just like a kid being told don't touch the stove cause it will burn you he touched it anyway to see if did.Now you got burned big time hope you lose your ride and hope M&M stays only if your removed.If the sponsership leaves 400 people could be out of a job.Think of all these people who have houses,cars,kids and other bills that have to be met because of your immature tantrums.I think sorry does not cut it this time.People keep saying what about Brad,Carl,Tony and some other drivers this guy has did alot of stuff in the last 2 years that surpass the other drivers.Giving the finger to a Nascar official,pushing a unmaned car into a wall,smashing Elliot Sadler and more incidents that will keep me venting. Time to go Kyle times run out on trying to straighten you out.

  31. Anonymous4:32 PM

    shut that hole in yur face moody and let the people speak..