A Look at NASCAR’s Villain?
Believe it or not, a list has hit the internet regarding the most ’disliked’ people in sports. Seems when it comes to the world of racing, Kurt Busch arrives on the list in the number ten spot. Of course, when you look back, Busch does have several strikes against him. From profanity-laced tirades he’s given on team radio communications, to cursing a television reporter at Homestead in November, to coming head-to-head with Roger Penske, Kurt Busch has made sure to get on a great deal of bad-guy lists.
For those of you who don’t know, Kurt Thomas Busch drives the No. 51 TAG Heuer Chevrolet Impala for Phoenix Racing in the Spring Cup Series. He has also driven for Penske Racing and Roush Fenway Racing throughout his career.
Beginning in 2001, Busch has been the winner of twenty-four Cup races and the 2004 championship, also giving his talents in the Pro Stock division of NHRA. A third-generation race car driver, his father won several NASCAR events, and he is the older brother of Kyle Busch – also a NASCAR driver.
His racing life has been filled with ups and downs. It was during the 2000 season that Busch was being promoted to the Winston Cup series as a replacement for Chad Little for the upcoming 2001 season. Little was released near the end of the season and Busch ran several races, finishing 48th in the points with no top fives, top tens, or even any wins under his name.
Running for ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2001, Busch did start 35 of 36 races with no wins, although he finally scored three top fives and six top tens that year. Running his first several races in an un-sponsored car which was due to John Deere pulling its sponsorship from Newell Rubbermaid before he signed with them, one of the most interesting occurrences was when he and Dale Earnhardt crossed paths in the Daytona 500 – only to have Dale give him a one-finger salute out his window. This was the same day that Dale experienced his final fatal crash at the end of the race. Busch finished in 27th place in the championship standings, did come in as the runner-up for Rookie of the Year, and earned more than $2 million in winnings.
But it was in 2002 when the world watched Busch break away from the pack in the Winston Cup Series. He won his first race in Bristol that spring, added a second win at Martinsville in October, won at Atlanta the next week and Homestead in the season finale. Scoring four wins, twelve top fives and twenty top tens – with one pole – and finishing third in the final standings, he was beyond strong. Finishing third brought his winnings to over $5 million. 2003 and 2004 came along as positive, yet up-and-down seasons when it came to wins and financial gain, but soon 2005 was once again glowing as Busch won three races, along with nine top five and eighteen top ten finishes out of thirty-four runs.
Roush Racing was left behind when Kurt joined Penske Racing South in 2006. He’d actually asked the team owner, Jack Roush, to let him out of his contract but Roush initially refused. However, times soon changed and after Ganassi was released from his 2006 contract, Roush decided to release Busch. In the 2006 season, driving for Penske, Busch scored one win at Bristol Motor Speedway – his fifth win at the track – and actually celebrated by getting out of his car and making a snow angel right there in front of all the fans. Winning six poles and having seven top fives and twelve top ten finishes, he still finished only 16th in the final standings.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 2009 season at the Daytona 500 that Busch was involved in a wreck on lap 124, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. swerved into Brian Vickers, sending Vickers shooting up the track and into the wall. Busch made numerous pit stops to repair his car, and was able to finish tenth. When it came to sibling versus sibling, Busch picked up another win at the 2009 Dickies 500 when his brother, Kyle, simply ran out of fuel with only two laps to go. In 2011, Kurt would meet a similar fate when racing in the Daytona 500. Busch won the pole and led most of the race, but a fuel pickup issue late in the race ended his chances of winning.
Something else ended in 2011, which was Busch’s employment with Penske Racing – terminated on December 5th. Although many sport’s insiders said that he was fired, Busch claimed that the parting was absolutely mutual, and that he was grateful to Penske Racing for six very productive years of his career.
Controversies have plagued the driver throughout his career thus far. Everything from the 2005 Phoenix incident, where his season was cut short after a confrontation during the race weekend with Sheriff’s deputies. He was pulled over for suspicion of drunken driving and cited for reckless driving, and Roush Racing suspended Busch for the remainder of the season. It was the team president, Geoff Smith, who declared quite loudly that they were “officially retiring as Kurt Busch’s apologists.”
But that wasn’t all. In the final race of the 2011 season, Busch finished forty-seven laps behind the leaders, after spending a great deal of time in the garage for mechanical issues. While turning into the garage, Busch made an obscene hand gesture, and while his car was undergoing repairs, he verbally abused Dr. Jerry Punch while waiting to be interviewed by Punch for ESPN. In this never-ending day of technology, this embarrassing incident was captured by a fan and posted on YouTube for everyone to see. Fined by NASCAR in the amount of $50,000 for his actions during the race, Penske Racing did try to stop the backlash and issued an apology for Busch’s “inappropriate actions.” Something this driver seems to be quite good at.
The feuds with rival drivers also made the cover of many a magazine. In fact, in the February 2006 edition of GQ, Kurt was noted on the top ten ‘most hated athletes’ list (although that time he made number three, so apparently he‘s getting more well-liked as time goes on.)
Busch has had notable screaming-matches and run-ins with everyone from Greg Biffle to Jimmie Johnson to Kevin Harvick. It was on June 4, 2007, at the Autism Speaks 400 being held at Dover International Speedway that he actually drove beside a fellow racecar on the pit road and yet again waved his familiar ‘salute’ through his window netting. Not only was he penalized 100 championship points and fined another $100,000, but he was also placed on probation until the end of the year.
That same race car driver would later take his revenge during practice for the 2008 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, by clipping the back end of Busch’s car and sending him into the wall. After sustaining major damage, Busch drove towards his enemy and proceeded to ram his car three times before trying to return to the garage after the practice was called.
As Busch heads into the 2012 season with Phoenix Racing, a team that leans heavily on Hendrick Motorsports for support, the owner, James Finch, has brought Busch on board…happily. Publicly, Busch says he now realizes that his bad behavior stemmed from being too tightly wound, too sponsor conscious and having no ability to relax and just be himself.
We’ll see, but one thing is for sure – as everyone heads to the track and gets ready to witness the ‘best of the best,’ they will certainly get an eyeful of the worst, as Kurt gears up to take on any enemy that’s out there on the track.