That in and of itself is a pretty straightforward answer that doesn’t need much elaboration.
When you have a lengthy history of on track run-ins accompanied with behavior that could best be described as boorish, and you proceed to deliberately turn a competitor – who also happens to be in the championship fight – head-on into the wall under the yellow flag, you more than deserve whatever punishment NASCAR deems appropriate.
The question now becomes where do we go from here? What lesson does Kyle Busch take from this and what is the long-term fallout of what transpired last weekend?
The answer to the first question is NASCAR has given the green light for Busch to take to the track this coming weekend in Phoenix. The sanctioning body, in a statement released yesterday, said they’ve lifted the “parking directive” issued Saturday morning. They also fined Busch $50,000 and put him on probation through the rest of the year.
If Busch violates his probation in any way, NASCAR left no doubt as to what will happen next.
“If during the remaining NASCAR events in 2011 there is another action by the competitor that is deemed by NASCAR officials as detrimental to stock car racing or to NASCAR, or is disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event, the competitor will be suspended indefinitely from NASCAR.”
As for Busch, it’s too early to tell what impact, if any, this one-race ban has had him.
It’s easy to say this will be the wakeup call the 26-year-old driver desperately needs. That seeing his racecar driven by someone else will make him reevaluate how he goes about conducting himself both on and off the track.
However, the same thing has been said in the past.
Ironically enough, the most recent incident of this magnitude was 12 months ago at Texas Motor Speedway when Busch berated NASCAR officials and then took it to another level when he gave an obscene gesture to the official assigned to his pit box.
For this NASCAR black-flagged Busch two laps and subsequently fined him $25,000.
With everyone from team owner Joe Gibbs to crew chief Dave Rodgers decrying his behavior, it was assumed this was the cold water in the face Busch needed.
Busch knew than that another incident of this caliber could be career-threatening.
It seemed for a while that Busch had learned the errors of his ways.
Through the first part of this season there were numerous stories written talking about the “New Kyle Busch” and how much more mature of a driver and person he was. Most attributed this to him getting married in the offseason.
But slowly, like a faulty sidewalk, cracks started to appear.
First, was the run-in with rival Kevin Harvick at Darlington. When Busch appeared to deliberately wreck Harvick and then had a confrontation with the Richard Childress Racing driver on pit road.
This was followed by another incident a few weeks later when Busch was tagged going 128 mph in a 45 mph zone through a residential area.
And just weeks after this latest transgression, Busch and Harvick’s team owner Richard Childress had a physical altercation in the driver’s lot at Kansas Speedway. Although by all accounts Busch was the not the aggressor this time around, it still speaks volumes about how much his behavior was grating those around him.
Now, just days removed from the most telling episode in what has been a controversial career, Busch is now very much at a crossroads.
If he is truly remorseful, Busch will put this behind him and will continue to do what he does better than anyone and eventually win the Sprint Cup championship that thus far has eluded him.
If Busch needs advice on how to rehab an image that has taken some significant blows as of late, there are two drivers who could be of great help.
One is his chief antagonist, Kevin Harvick. Harvick, like Busch, was once a young driver who wore his emotions on his sleeve and frequently let those same emotions get the best of him. Harvick’s awakening came following a Truck Series race in 2002 at Martinsville, when NASCAR upset with Harvick’s continued reckless driving, benched him for the next day’s Cup race.
The second person is a driver who knows all too well the inner workings of Joe Gibbs Racing.
From the time following a race when he slapped a reporter’s recorder to the ground, to when he got into an argument with a NASCAR official over his refusal to wear the required head-and-neck safety restraint, to the time he shoved a photographer, it’s fair to say during his 10 years at JGR, Tony Stewart was certainly no choirboy.
It got to the point that following the alleged assault of the photographer, Home Depot, Stewart’s sponsor at the time, stepped in and fined the driver $50,000. They also made it abundantly clear that another such incident would result in them removing their name from the side of his car.
Not much different in tone from the statement M&M’s released Sunday.
“The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of M&M’S and we’re very disappointed. Like you, we hold those who represent our brand to a higher standard and we have expressed our concerns directly to Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Thanks to the patience of Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Home Depot, then-crew chief Greg Zipadelli, along with many others, Stewart persevered and eventually molded himself into a person the sport is proud to have represent them.
Coincidently or not, Stewart, now the owner of his own two-car team, is in the thick of this year’s championship race. With just two races left in the season, the winner of four races this year is a scant three points behind leader Carl Edwards.
A seat in one of Joe Gibbs’ Toyotas is one of the premier rides in all of motorsports. If they choose to remove Busch from his No. 18 for good, the team would have no shortage of viable options to choose from.
If there is one thing to take out of all this, it’s that hopefully a week off taught Busch a lesson he will never forget.
If not, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll learn the cold, hard truth.
It takes more than just talent to be a championship driver. If Busch can’t learn to play within the rules like everyone else, even if NASCAR is better off with him a part of it, then he needs to be sent home.
Although the sport will miss him, it will easily continue on without him. The machine as a whole is bigger than the parts. If NASCAR can overcome the death of its most popular driver in its biggest race, they’re not going to worry too much about a driver who thinks he’s above the law no matter how talented a wheelman he may be.
The onus is now on Kyle Busch to change.
There’s no reason he can’t go down the same path as Harvick and Stewart.
All he needs to do is acknowledge what he did was wrong, vow to correct his misdeeds, and more importantly, actually make the changes he promises to craft.
Above all else, Busch needs to remember actions will always speak louder than words. It’s going to take a long period of time for people to believe that what they’re seeing from his is genuine and that it’s not simply a front created by him and his advisors in attempt to smooth things over.
This is Busch’s second strike; he will not get a third.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media/Getty Images