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Tue, Oct 21, 2014

WOODY: Beware when NAS-KARMA circles around

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In a sport that runs in circles, it’s understandable that in NASCAR, what goes around comes around.

That was the Life Lesson recently learned (maybe) by talented but temperamental driver Kurt Busch.

After repeated blowups with the media and ugly spats with various team members, Busch was released from Penske Racing. Team owner Roger Penske has always been the personification of class and professionalism and he finally got a gizzard-full of curt Kurt.

Penske told Busch to take his attitude elsewhere.

Banished from one of racing’s premier teams, Busch has since landed a job driving for James Finch. Talk about going from the chalet to the shanty.

This is not a criticism of Finch’s operation. No team owner brings more enthusiasm and dedication to the sport than James. His effort to keep a small-time team afloat in the big-bucks era of NASCAR is inspiring.

But Finch operates on a shoestring budget and on the rare occasion that one of his cars wins a race – or even manages a decent finish – it’s an upset.

And so it came to pass that Busch, a former NASCAR champion, allowed his childish tantrums to cost him a driver’s dream job. He accosted one reporter too many, berated a teammate too many times, pitched a final bridge-burning fit, and it came back to bite him.

Now he’s lost it all. If Shakespeare had been a racing fan he could have penned a great play about the self-destruction of McBusch.

NAS-KARMA can be heck.

If Kurt’s kid brother Kyle’s not careful, he’s also going to end up on the same slag heap. He can be just as belligerent, babyish and boorish as his sour sibling. Maybe it’s something in the Vegas water they grew up drinking.

Last season Richard Childress knocked the chip off Kyle’s shoulder (with a reported uppercut) and some thought it might have knocked some sense into him. But a few races later he hammered rival racer Ron Hornaday Jr. into the wall during a truck race, and NASCAR parked him for the following truck, Nationwide and Cup races.

Sponsor M&M stripped its logo from Kyle’s Cup car for the season’s final two races. That’s a message that even Kyle’s team owner Joe Gibbs ought to be able to understand.

Gibbs is a good guy, but he’s also an enabler who ignores his drivers’ bad behavior. Joe’s like one of those parents who lets his baby squall during the movie, oblivious to the fact that he’s spoiling it for everybody. He did it with Tony Stewart, and now he’s doing it with Kyle Busch.

After Gibbs repeatedly refused to take any action, NASCAR and his sponsors finally took it for him.

No matter how talented young Busch may be – and some consider him the best in decades – he won’t win any races watching from the sideline.

In a smattering of defense of the Busch brothers, NASCAR sends a mixed message. On one hand it tells drivers, “Boys, have at it,” as it tries to re-capture the beat-and-bang action of yesteryear. But when they go too far they get penalized.

Kurt’s problems had nothing to do with a rugged racing style. His biggest blowups came off the track. And, as NASCAR said, even in the black-and-blue world of stock car racing, there are lines that can’t be crossed. Drivers should have enough sense to recognize the limits.

I admire Roger Penske for making a hard call. He dumped one of racing’s most talented drivers because of bad behavior. How many other team owners, in other sports, would have the courage to do that?

Roger’s been around racing for decades and produced some of the top drivers in all series of the sport. Nobody wants to win more than he does, but he wants to do it with grace and class. If a driver can’t race under those guidelines, he’ll have to race for someone else.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Kurt Busch. Can he rehabilitate his image and someday land a job with another top team, or is he destined to end a once-dazzling career scrambling for crumbs and knowing that he has only one person to blame for his downfall – Kurt Busch?

There’s a powerful lesson to be learned, and if it’s too late for Busch to benefit, perhaps some other young hot-headed prima donna might heed it: the worst destruction is self-destruction.

Larry Woody can be contacted at larrywoody@gmail.com.
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