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Kurt Busch suspended for media comments

5 June 2012

Controversial Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series driver Kurt Busch has been handed a one week ban from NASCAR competition, following comments he made to members of the media at Dover International Speedway after Saturday afternoon's race.

The ban means he will not be able to compete for Phoenix Racing at Pocono. He's also been placed on extended NASCAR probation through to the end of the year.

Busch had been involved in a long battle with Justin Allgaier during Saturday's 5-hour Energy 200 race which saw him make contact with the rear of Allgaier's car at the start of the race which Allgaier took as intentional. Allgaier went on to make it as difficult as possible for Busch to pass him for the rest of the race, and afterwards waited for Busch in pit lane. The two men went to examine the original damage at the back of Allgaier's #31 car with both asserting their views in an assertive but non-physical discussion.

However, this happened in the full glare of the media and reporters inevitably wanted to know what had been said between the two men. Allgaier was quick to brush off the matter: "The weather," he quipped when asked what they had discussed, adding: "We were both fighting for the same real estate and unfortunately ... just agreed to disagree."

But for his part when interviewed by ESPN's Dr Jerry Punch, Kurt Busch said: "He drove like a you-know-what all day and tried to door us and tried to do stupid things out on track ... There's clowns that wanna play, and we'll play," adding: "Race your car, kid, race your car. That's all there is to it, it's called a race, that's what we're doing out here."

Busch added: "I'm on probation, so I can't even pick my nose the right way."

So far no problem, but once the TV cameras moved away Busch was approached by Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass who wanted to know whether the fact that Busch was on probation over a pit lane incident at Darlington in May had left him feeling unable to fight back against Allgaier's tactics on the track. Busch's irked response was picked up on camera.

"It refrains me from not beating the shit out of you right now, because you ask me stupid questions," he said. "But since I'm on probation, I suppose that's improper to say as well. If you could talk about racing things, we could talk about racing things, Bob."

When Pockrass insisted that it was a legitimate racing-related question, Busch disagreed again: "It's not racing," he said. "You're in this just to start stuff. That's all you're out here for."

Pundits expected there to be some sort of reprimand for Busch for the comments, which subsequently aired on SPEED TV and went viral online. But a suspension is beyond what many had been prepared for given that the exchange was not done in an overtly hostile or aggressive manner.

The last time that a driver was suspended from race events was Kurt's brother Kyle last November when he was parked at Texas for taking dangerous retaliatory action against Ron Hornaday Jr in a Friday evening Truck Series race. The last time a driver received a suspension for actions not on the race track was 2003, when Jimmy Spencer was suspended for trying to hit a driver through a car window on pit lane: ironically, the driver on the receiving end that time was none other than Kurt Busch.

Undoubtedly, NASCAR's quick and severe response to Busch's Saturday night comments is the culmination of a year's worth of controversial temper-prone behaviour by Busch, a former Sprint Cup champion. At the end of the 2011 season Busch lost his temper with Jerry Punch in post-race interviews and was duly fined $50,000 by the series and ultimately lost his place in the Penske Racing team.

The Darlington incident last month which involved a confrontation between his crew and that of Ryan Newman's team also netted a $50,000 fine and got him placed on probation through to July 25, and it's because Busch's latest comments came while still on that probation - and seemingly also directly mocking the probation sanction as he did so - that NASCAR upped the ante with the penalty.

"It was something that we considered very carefully before come to decision like this," confirmed NASCAR's spokesman Kerry Tharp. "There are many factors that we consider when coming to a decision like this."

For his part, Kurt Busch said in a statement released by his Cup team: "I accept NASCAR's decision. I put them in a box, they had to take action and it's my fault for putting them in this position. I apologize for the comments I made to Bob Pockrass."

The official NASCAR notice said that "NASCAR has suspended driver Kurt Busch until June 13 of this year and extended his NASCAR probation until Dec. 31 for his actions following the NASCAR Nationwide Series race June 2 at Dover International Speedway."

It added: "Kurt Busch violated Section 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing; violation of probation; verbal abuse to a media member) of the 2012 NASCAR Rule Book. Kurt Busch had previously been placed on NASCAR probation May 15 for his actions during the May 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway. That probation was originally scheduled to end July 25 but has now been extended through the end of this year."

While there may have been general surprise from the media and from fans about the suspension, few questioned that it was a long time in coming one way or another.

"Kurt Busch's suspension is long overdue, and that is coming from someone who learned his lesson after sitting out a race for punching him a few years ago," said Jimmy Spencer, the former Cup driver parked in 2003 for trying to hit Busch. "Kurt has been given plenty of chances to right his wrongs and put himself back on the right path, but he has failed to take advantage of any of those opportunities.

"NASCAR had to do something to restore a sense of respect toward the sport on Kurt's behalf because he seems to consistently flaunt his disrespect for everything and everyone in this sport," added Spencer. "Maybe sitting out and watching the race from the pit box or his couch will wake him up to how great he really has it."

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage insisted that every dealing he'd had personally with Busch had been completely first class and professional, but even he was in agreement that the suspension was called for.

"You can't threaten other people," Gossage agreed. "I don't know where all this comes from. It's just sad. One of the most exciting drivers to come along in this generation, and I hope he's not blowing it."

There was no initial response from Busch's Cup team Phoenix Racing to the suspension, with no word as to whether they would find a replacement driver for the #51 at Pocono. Busch's Nationwide team - Kyle Busch Motorsports, owned and operated by his younger brother - also did not make any comment; they will not be affected by the suspension as there is no Nationwide Series race scheduled for this coming weekend.

The NASCAR suspension does not apply to Busch's involvement in Wednesday evening's charity Prelude To The Dream event at the Eldora Speedway dirt track owned and operated by Tony Stewart. Kurt had signed up to make only his second appearance in the fundraiser's eight year history along with his brother Kyle, a regular competitor. Along with the Busch brothers and Stewart, the other participants scheduled for the event include Austin and Ty Dillon, Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, David Gilliland, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Jason Leffler, Ryan Newman, Kenny Wallace and JJ Yeley, together with Danica Patrick. Tony Kanaan from the IZOD IndyCar Series will also take part, as will Kurt Busch's Dover sparring partner Justin Allgaier.


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