Kurt Busch's new Sprint Cup race seat at Phoenix Racing is in no small part part thanks to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates, the long-time NASCAR team owner revealed on Tuesday.
"We didn't have an opening [at EGR], and he was having a hard time finding a place," Sabates told reporters during the second day of NASCAR's preseason media tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "At 11 o'clock one night, I called two people and I said: 'I want you to hire Kurt Busch;' and to the other I said: 'I want you to build the engines.'"
The former was Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch, and the latter was Hendrick Motorsports boss Rick Hendrick.
"I pushed Finch and I pushed Rick Hendrick to supply the engines for them," Sabates confirmed. "Then I called Kurt and I said: 'You need to call these guys and be real sweet and nice to them.' And he was hired."
After a volatile season that left him out of favour with his 2011 team boss Roger Penske and the team's sponsors Shell Pennzoil, Busch left Penske Racing after the season ended "by mutual agreement." Despite being a former Sprint Cup champion, it looked likely that Busch might not be able to find a new team for 2012 - until Sabates' intervention.
"I put the moving parts together for him, and I'm glad I did," said Sabates. "Everybody deserves a second chance. What he did was wrong, and I don't think he has ever made an excuse for what he did. It was stupid, but ... I think he learned his lesson."
"Felix Sabates stuck his neck out for me and helped," confirmed Busch. "This sport is so tightly connected in all directions that a guy like Felix Sabates can help me get another chance."
Sabates said he had always got along well with Busch down the years. "I'm probably one of the few guys who, whenever he was around, I've always been very friendly with him," he confirmed. "I've asked him to do charity events. Last year I asked him to go to dinner with some of my friends because my guys wouldn't do it. He's always been great."
The irony is that Sabates act of kindness toward Busch might prove to be a headache for him and for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing on the track once the season gets underway.
"I think he's going to be great," he said. "He's got something to prove, not only to everybody else but he's got to prove to himself that he's still got it.
"I think if the #51 beats some of the Penske cars, Roger might be jumping from the top of the building ... If he starts beating all of us, I'm going to kick myself in the butt!"