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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011

COMMENTARY

Let it go: Busch penalized enough

BY JENNA FRYER
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kyle Busch watches the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race from his team's pit at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth Sunday. Kyle Busch watches the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race from his team's pit at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth Sunday.
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CHARLOTTE — Kyle Busch lost his temper and made a poor decision in what must have been a fit of rage.

For that, he has been severely punished.

Busch was parked — the NASCAR equivalent of suspended — for the Saturday and Sunday races at Texas Motor Speedway as a penalty for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution in the Truck Series race. Instead of fleeing, Busch stayed at the track and suffered the ultimate humiliation in sitting atop the pit box to watch someone else drive his race car.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough suffering for a huge faction of NASCAR fans tired of Busch’s antics. There have been calls for his immediate firing from Joe Gibbs Racing and promises to boycott M&M’s if Mars Inc. doesn’t force Busch out by threatening to pull its sponsorship of the No. 18 team.

Those Toyota commercials that have run for weeks with Busch promoting the Camry were noticeably absent in Sunday’s telecast, and team owner Gibbs was noncommittal when asked about Busch’s future with the team.

The speculation has created a frenzied push for further penalties. On Monday, NASCAR fined Busch $50,000, placed him on probation through the end of the year and warned him he will be suspended indefinitely if he has another action NASCAR deems “disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event.”

That’s where it should end.

Being thrown out of a race is the most serious punishment in NASCAR, and one president Mike Helton doesn’t use often. Only two other drivers had been parked in the last 10 years: Kevin Harvick wasn’t allowed to run a 2002 Cup race at Martinsville for his actions at a Truck race, and Robby Gordon couldn’t race the 2007 Cup race at Pocono for his actions at a Nationwide event in Montreal.

Lots of drivers have shown poor judgment, but parking them has always been the last option in Helton’s book of punishment. The reason? It can ruin a drivers’ career.

Busch is the most polarizing driver in NASCAR for both his 104 career victories in NASCAR’s top three series, and a long list of bad-boy behavior that stretches over his NASCAR career. Yes, he’s one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR history. And he has no one but himself to blame for all the drama that distracts from his accomplishments.

Busch has figured out that he’s his own worst enemy, and, although it seems hard to believe, he tried hard this year to make better decisions. Both his temperament and patience were much improved, despite the occasional setbacks that were almost exclusively of his own doing.

He feuded with Harvick earlier this year — it’s an ongoing mutual dislike of each other — and earned a $25,000 fine when the two tangled on pit road at Darlington. He was caught driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone in a borrowed Lexus valued at almost $400,000; the infraction cost him his North Carolina driver’s license for 45 days and 30 hours of community service.

There was an altercation in the garage at Kansas with rival owner Richard Childress, and Busch intentionally wrecked Elliott Sadler in a Nationwide race at Bristol. It adds up to quite a long rap sheet, and that had to have played into NASCAR’s decision.

Series officials have struggled to find a line in the “Boys, have at it” era of allowing drivers to police themselves. Busch is suddenly the case study for how far is too far, but in claiming his suspension was based solely on his actions of Friday night, NASCAR, at best, seems inconsistent in its rulings.

In the first test of “Boys, have at it,” Carl Edwards returned to the track for the sole purpose of retaliating against Brad Keselowski. The intentional wrecking spiraled out of control, as Keselowski’s car sailed through the air and into the fence. Edwards wasn’t parked or fined for his action. Instead, his penalty was probation for three races.

Unlike Busch, who admitted after Friday’s accident “I lost my cool, no doubt about it,” Edwards’ action was premeditated.

But Hornaday was in a championship race and Busch ruined his chances — a factor many argued NASCAR had to weigh. Where was the outcry last year when David Reutimann intentionally wrecked Busch to effectively end his title chances?

So NASCAR took a stand and gave Busch the harshest punishment in the book. Maybe it was long overdue. There’s no doubt he made a mistake, and maybe it’s the one that will change his behavior. But it’s been addressed, severely and swiftly, and Busch should be allowed to begin repairing his reputation.



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