Kyle Busch issued a letter of apology to his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community as a whole on Saturday evening, on a day that started with him being suspended from the weekend's NASCAR Nationwide and Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch was parked for the weekend after an on-track incident with Ron Hornaday during Friday evening's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, in which he retaliated for earlier contact by turning Hornaday into the wall under a caution.
I've had a lot of time today to sit and reflect, and try to put my thoughts into words as best I can.
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.
After talking with my team, it's great to have their support and encouragement to assure me that there are better days ahead. 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.
I'd also like to apologize to Ron Hornaday Jr., and everyone associated with the No. 33 team in the Truck Series.
I understand why I was taken out of the car for the rest of the weekend. NASCAR officials had to act, and I accept their punishment and take full responsibility for my actions.
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.
Through a lot of support from the people around me, 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.
Busch could still face further penalties from NASCAR, or from his team - Joe Gibbs Racing - which is currently publicly at least standing by him. Busch's seat in this Sunday's Cup race is being taken by Michael McDowell, who regardless of the circumstances is happy at least to get the chance to step up at Texas.
"This is an awesome opportunity for me, so I'm going to go have a lot of fun and maximize the opportunity," he said on Saturday. "I know that I didn't really do anything to deserve it. I just got the phone call."
Drivers and teams are still trying to figure out exactly what it was about Busch's actions on Friday night that crossed the 'line' NASCAR say exists between their hands-off 'Boys have At It' approach and the more aggressively interventionist line taken over Friday's incident.
Just a week previously, NASCAR seemed happy to allow Brian Vickers to continue racing despite his involvement in multiple cautions during the Martinsville race that culminated in his attempt to retaliate against Matt Kenseth for an earlier incident; Vickers succeeded only in wrecking himself but the resulting caution changed the outcome of the race. Vickers received no penalty or warning for any of the incidents.
Drivers felt that Busch's unpopularity with large sections of the sport's fanbase had either enabled or forced NASCAR into a more pro-active stance this week. The last time a Cup driver was parked for a race for on-track issues was Robby Gordon in 2007, after ignoring NASCAR orders during a Nationwide Series race in Montreal.
"I feel like NASCAR felt probably a little pressure from fans and things like that to make a decision," said Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin. "There's not much different from what happened last week. There were a lot of incidents very, very similar that took guys out."
Championship leader Carl Edwards didn't want to get distracted from his own race by the incident, and sidestepped the question when asked about it: "I didn't hear anything that [NASCAR President] Mike Helton said, so I don't know the exact reason or anything like that," he said. "I haven't had a chance to talk to him, so I don't know yet."
Edwards' team owner Jack Roush said that he hoped the 'line' being tentatively drawn with Busch's suspension was about retaliating under cautions. "“Anybody that wrecks one of these cars or creates a problem after a caution or after a checkered flag really does so at their own peril,” he said. “I'm sure NASCAR will do something that's reasonable in the broad scheme of things.”
Meanwhile Kevin Harvick - who owned the #33 truck that Hornaday was driving on Friday - was still unhappy with Busch but insisted that as far as he was concerned "NASCAR has taken care of it," adding: "I wish my truck was still racing for the championship and still not totalled.
"I'm glad I was in my truck, and I had good people around me to make me understand that this situation was going to get handled and didn't make it worse than it already was.”
Harvick himself knows what it feels like to be on the wrong end of NASCAR disciplinary action, having been suspended for a Cup race for actions in a 2002 Truck race at Martinsville. "I guess you could call it a defining moment," he said of that incident. "Fortunately, I had sponsors that stuck around, and that was one of those moments where you know that you have to get your stuff together and realize that it's not just about you."