Kurt Busch has exited Penske Racing with immediate effect, the team announced today in a statement.
The news follows a frustrating and at times stormy season which concluded with Busch receiving a $50,000 fine for an obscene gesture and swearing at the ESPN pit lane reporter at the season finale last month after his driveshaft failed just four laps into the race.
"I appreciate the victories that Kurt has brought Penske Racing and our sponsors over the past six years," said Roger Penske in the official statement from the team, making the announcement. "While I am disappointed that Kurt will not be racing for our team in the future, both Kurt and I felt that separating at this time was best for all parties, including our team and sponsors. I wish Kurt the best in his future racing endeavours."
The team said that it was now evaluating options for a replacement driver in the #22 car for 2012. It's thought that David Ragan might be in line for the seat, after Roush Fenway were unable to find sponsorship to retain him in the #6 car next year. Brian Vickers and David Reutimann are also looking for work, and Penske might also be tempted to turn to Sam Hornish Jr. An announcement is expected from Penske shortly.
Penske and Busch were both keen to stress that no one had been 'fired' and that the decision to part ways was a mutual agreement with Busch saying that it was "time for a fresh start," adding: "Coming to a mutual agreement to go our separate ways is a positive step for me. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I took time to reflect on what is most important to me and realized I need to find a way to put the fun back into racing.
"I am grateful to Penske Racing for six very productive years," he continued. "Together we won a lot of races - 16 in all. Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy, but it's an important step for me and allows me to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person. I want to personally thank Roger Penske for the opportunity that he has given me."
It's unclear whether there are any remaining seat openings for Busch for next year, or whether he intends to take some time out. He revealed last week that he was seeing a sports psychologist about controlling his anger after races, after a series of blow-ups over the year aimed at both his team boss Roger Penske, and his former crew chief Steve Addington who exited Penske himself last week to take over as Tony Stewart's crew chief in 2012.
"I recognize the passion and emotion that have helped me succeed on the track need to be better channelled off the track," Busch said. "The past few months I began working with a sports psychologist to help me better deal with my emotions, especially following moments of frustration during competition.
"I need to be a better person on the radio, to the team, as a leader," he continued. "I need to harness what happens in the race car and keep it there, and then I need to step out of the car and understand that if we didn't reach our goal for that day or that moment, that it's going to be alright at the end."
The 2004 Cup champion added: "I never want to take for granted that it's a privilege to earn a living as a NASCAR driver. As I begin this new chapter in my career, I'm excited about the future and committed to making the changes necessary for me to enjoy racing again, to compete for championships and to better represent NASCAR, my sponsors, my team and my fans."