FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE:
Joe Gibbs and Kyle Busch will meet the media at Phoenix International Racway this morning to discuss the actions taken by major sponsor Mars, Inc., late Thursday night.
Mars announced it would not sponsor Busch in the last two races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season but would return to sponsor him in 2012.
I wrote the following post Thursday night. Some of the questions have since been answered but the thesis remains: Kyle Bush can thank his lucky stars he drives for Joe Gibbs.
THURSDAY NIGHT POST:
Joe Gibbs is a Christian gentleman and when it comes to Kyle Busch, he’s apparently decided to turn the other cheek.
Whether he’s turning his back on millions of dollars is something we can only wonder about.
As of this writing – and the situation is sufficiently fluid that circumstances can change at just about any moment – Busch will go out to practice at Phoenix International Raceway Friday in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 car.
Unless Busch does something to break probation between then and Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern, when the second-last Sprint Cup race of the season is scheduled to start, he’ll be in that car when the track goes green.
But the familiar M & M’s wrap on that race car reportedly won’t be there. Instead, Busch will be sponsored in the Phoenix race by long-time Gibbs supporter Interstate Batteries (who’ve been with him since he announced 20 years ago that he was leaving his job as coach of the NFL Washington Redskins to start a NASCAR Cup team).
Whether this is a one-race decision and M & M’s (manufactured by Mars Inc.) will be back on the car for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend remains to be seen, although there are some reports that the candy company is through for the season and won't be on the car in Florida, either.
It’s possible that Busch’s actions a week ago at Texas Motor Speedway – where he drilled Ron Hornaday’s truck under caution and was suspended from competition for the rest of the weekend by NASCAR (who subsequently fined him 50 large and put him on strict probation for the rest of 2011) – could be a deal-breaker, so far as Gibbs’ relationship with the Mars candy people is concerned.
Which means Gibbs might be facing a huge decision: going forward, does he stick with a really talented driver who’s got the emotional control of a 10-year-old (it seems), or does he continue his relationship with a national sponsor that pumps millions of dollars into his race team each year?
I know what I’d do, but I’m not Joe Gibbs.
Joe Gibbs prays. He believes in the power of God. He told the Republican national convention before the last U.S. election that he hoped presidential hopeful John McCain would win and lead a "spiritual awakening" in America.
He is a good man and be believes there is good in all men and women.
That’s why he stuck with Tony Stewart when "Smoke" was driving for him and having some problems. That’s why he’s hung in there with Kyle Busch when Kyle would periodically go off the rails.
But this particular problem is turning out to be a true test for Joe Gibbs and his Christian way of life because race teams run on money and you’ve got to have lots of it if you want to play on the top of the mountain.
The economy in the United States (and the world, for that matter) is mushy as hell at the moment. There are not that many companies or corporations around that are willing to sponsor race teams and Mars Inc. is golden because the candy business (Mars bars, Skittles, Snickers) is usually one of the most stable of enterprises.
It’s likely that Mars Inc. is sponsoring Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 car to the tune of between $10 million and $15 million a season. You don’t blow that off easily.
(Yes, I know there is a contract in place and that it was recently renewed. And it undoubtedly says in the contract that Joe Gibbs Racing has the right to name the driver of the car. But if a company decides it doesn’t want a particular driver, for whatever reason, the team can only hold out for so long before there’s irreparable damage done and the sponsor walks.)
So Joe Gibbs had a choice going into the Phoenix race: pull Busch out and put Aric Almirola in with M & M’s on the car, or stay with Busch and risk alienating a major sponsor long-term.
I suggest there is no other NASCAR Sprint Cup owner who would have been as patient, for as long, with Kyle Busch as Joe Gibbs has been.
Which means Kyle Busch is a very, very lucky man.
The question now is how will he repay a man like Gibbs, who’s put so much faith in him?
When Busch fires up that car at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, all eyes will be on him. How he behaves and handles himself, on and off the speedway, from that point on will show the world what kind of man he really is.
We already know all about his boss.