What Ails Kyle Busch Can Be Cured By Maturity
Kyle Busch’s actions in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas nearly a week ago created, for a time, a firestorm of debate.
When Busch deliberately wrecked championship challenger Ron Hornaday, NASCAR responded by parking him for the rest of the event and the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races later that weekend.
That action effectively squashed any hopes Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing team had of winning a Cup title.
Then, on the Monday after the Cup race, NASCAR announced that it had fined Busch $50,000 and placed him on probation for the rest of the year. Should he violate that probation he would be indefinitely suspended.
Admittedly, all of this is a very harsh judgment.
This week it has been reported that Busch might be pulled from the Gibbs’ ride for Phoenix and Homestead. The final decision was that of Gibbs and the team’s sponsors. NASCAR had cleared Busch to compete in the final two events of the year.
As of this writing nothing was official.
The controversy that boiled earlier in the week centered on the sanctioning body’s rulings at Texas and afterward. Was Busch punished adequately – or even not enough?
Or were NASCAR’s actions too harsh, even inappropriate, given that it has completely avoided any penalties for those who appeared to have committed crimes as great as Busch’s?
Does NASCAR carry a vendetta against Busch, who has been a constant source of irritation for years?
After digesting much that has already been said and written, I’ll offer an opinion – for what it may be worth.
I’ll start by saying something I think no one can deny.
Busch is an incredibly talented race driver.
In the space of only eight years in NASCAR, the 26-year-old competitor from Las Vegas has won 23 Sprint Cup races, a record 51 on the Nationwide Series and 30 in trucks.
That’s 104 wins in NASCAR’s top three national touring series. I can think of no other driver who has even approached that in so short a time. At his young age Busch has the opportunity to establish several all-time records.
He has risen to the top of his profession and in so doing has made himself a millionaire many times over. There can be no doubt he’s earned his celebrity.
Yes, Busch has a massive amount of talent.
But he also has a very meager amount of maturity.
Immaturity is, in fact, the cause of all of Busch’s problems.
I don’t know if he thinks he’s better than anyone else, or that he should be able to do what he wants when he wants, but I do know that his actions last week – and several times in the past – clearly indicate he allows his emotions to overrule his judgment.
To establish himself as a respected competitor whose interactions with others, and behavior on and off the track, match his obvious talent, Busch must grow up. It’s that simple.
If he doesn’t, I can assure you that in time, team owners and sponsors will become fed up with a person they perceive to be a spoiled brat who, for them, creates more harm than good.
I am very aware drivers are highly competitive and, in the heat of battle, can respond harshly when they think they have been wronged. It happens all the time.
For Busch, however, it has become routine. Afterward he has issued apologies coupled with the promise that it won’t happen again. He apologized one more time for his actions at Texas, to which many have responded, “Yeah, so what?”
A couple of Busch’s sponsors have expressed their disapproval and have issued their own ultimatums.
Busch is not unique. There have been other drivers rich with talent and short on maturity.
Tony Stewart, a two-time NASCAR champion, is a former Gibbs driver whose knowledge of anger management was nil. He virtually assaulted a photographer and a reporter and got into spats and on-track incidents with other drivers. He thus sustained, many times, harsh NASCAR – and sponsor - judgment.
There was a time when, because of his words and actions, he had to fight to keep his job.
But today, while some may suggest he is still somewhat of an obnoxious smart aleck, I think he’s realized that he has to act sensibly and hold his emotions in check, at least publicly.
Perhaps part of that is because he’s a team owner with multiple responsibilities.
Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother is another example.
Without going into great detail, the elder Busch was removed from his car for the final two races of 2005 in a joint decision from Roush Fenway Racing and sponsors after being charged by Arizona sheriffs for reckless driving.
Said Roush officials: “We are tired of being Kurt Busch’s apologists.”
Prior to that, Busch, the 2004 champion, had acquired a reputation as an incorrigible.
Today I think we see a different older brother. Yes, we’ve all heard how sarcastic and mean-spirited he sounds via radio communication with his team, but so what? He’s entitled. That’s within his territory and not the public’s.
Last I saw, he didn’t deliberately wreck anyone nor throw a punch or two in the garage area.
I hope I am not proven wrong in the future but I do believe that two of Kyle Busch’s contemporaries, his brother and Stewart, have learned lessons.
He can do the same.
As for NASCAR, admittedly it set the stage for some on-track altercations when it established the “Boys, have at it” philosophy, which encouraged drivers to settle differences among themselves.
This was in response to fans’ complaints that drivers had become too politically correct and the true rough-and-tumble spirit of stock car racing had been lost.
But NASCAR also said that it would step in if things got out of hand – which is simply logical – and that it would know when that line was crossed.
Which is what it thought happened in the Las Vegas truck race.
I have seen and heard reports that with the younger Busch, NASCAR went too far especially since previous fouls by others, seemingly just as blatant, occurred without punishment or even response.
It has been suggested that NASCAR simply overreacted with Busch.
This is utter nonsense.
What Busch did was so flagrant, so obvious that had not NASCAR responded harshly it would be considered impotent and the biggest joke in professional sports.
Who could have not clearly seen or understood what happened? A friend of mine, whose knowledge of stock car racing is miniscule, watched a replay and said, “Are they allowed to do that? Don’t people get hurt?”
There was no gray area here; no issue for debate. NASCAR had to strongly deal with it and it did – rightly so.
What he lacks is maturity.
He can acquire that. Frankly, he must.
When, and if, he does, he may well indeed rise to the rank of champion and in time become one of the best, among fans and peers, NASCAR has ever had.
It’s all up to him.