My first reaction upon hearing that Richard Petty Motorsports is seriously considering hiring Kurt Busch for the 2012 season was that somebody had invented a rumour to make the media look bad.
There’s nothing going on in motorsports at the moment and dedicated websites, in particular, will go to town on any rumour or nugget of information tossed their way.
My thinking was that as the media got Kurt Busch fired from Penske Racing, what better revenge than to make the media look really stupid?
But blow me down, as Popeye the Sailor Man used to say. It turns out that the initial report from Sirius Satellite Radio’s NASCAR show with Dave Moody had more than a grain of truth to it.
The story still strikes me as a bit of a trial balloon, designed to measure reaction. But who knows what might come of it?
Richard Petty Motorsports has been doing everything it can to convince sponsor Best Buy to sign up for at least another year. However, the internal thinking is that Best Buy won’t re-up if ex-Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger continues as driver of the No. 43 car (he finished 15th in Sprint Cup standings in 2011 with no wins) but that it might agree to terms if a proven winner like former Sprint Cup champion Busch was in the cockpit (11th place with two wins in 2011).
As we all know, Busch was fired by Penske Racing for swearing at a cameraman and at ESPN pit reporter Jerry Punch while waiting to be interviewed on-air at the final race of the Sprint Cup season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was not the first time Busch blew his top and some observers (including me) suggested it was time he got his comeuppance.
Not everybody agrees.
According to a story by speed.com's Tom Jensen, Petty Motorsports co-owner Andy Murstein told FOXSports.com Tuesday that “Kurt’s issues are far less severe than what other athletes have done in other sports."
Continued Murstein: “Those athletes have all received second chances and Kurt will, too. He wasn't caught running a dog-fighting ring, he wasn't caught with a handgun in a club, he wasn't using performance-enhancing drugs and, unlike his brother, he wasn't even letting his temper get the best of him to cause a wreck.
“I think he is a great competitor who just needs to take a step back and clear his head. Perhaps someone as well-respected, talented, and universally loved like the King (Richard Petty) could help him accomplish that.”
Whew! I actually thought Kurt Busch had received several second chances, but apparently not.
In any event, Petty Motorsports COO Robbie Loomis told Moody that the team has talked about hiring Busch.
"There is a lot of interest on our part in having Kurt Busch in the fold," Loomis said. "It makes sense to have Kurt with our team, if we can make it work. . . We value what he has done on the race track. He has won a (Sprint Cup) championship and worked for a first-class operation like Penske Racing. Guys like that don't come along every day."
Guys who get fired for belligerence don’t come along every day, either. Kurt Busch has burned a lot of bushes (no pun intended) over the course of his NASCAR career and he’s a lightning rod so far as fans are concerned.
Petty Motorsports gets its engines from Jack Roush’s organization and Kurt Busch and Jack Roush have, as they say, a history. Busch drove for Roush until the last two races of 2005 when Roush suspended the then-defending Nextel Cup champion for coming under the scrutiny of police in the Phoenix area for reckless driving.
So the question has to be asked: will Jack Roush continue to do business with a race team that employs Kurt Busch as the driver?
Although Richard Petty is a minority owner in Richard Petty Motorsports, the team still bears his name and it’s his reputation on the line. As well, his son, Kyle Petty, did not mince words when asked to comment on Busch’s firing by Penske Racing:
"This is a business. When a driver’s behavior and actions bleed over to the business side, then it becomes everybody’s business. With some of the things that went on with Kurt this year with his in-car tirades . . . with the way he’s been portrayed in the media and now his outburst toward Jerry Punch, I don’t think the sponsors can live with that.
" . . . From some of the statements made by the sponsors, what sponsor will want to take a chance on him again? Although the sponsorship pool is small nowadays, the sponsors that are out there want to maximize their dollars. One of the underlying reasons Kurt was let go is that he didn’t represent his sponsor in a good light, and if I was a sponsor, I might not look at Kurt the same way I’d look at another potential driver."
So Murstein thinks Busch deserves another "second chance" and Robbie Loomis thinks Best Buy will jump at the chance to sponsor Petty Motorsports with Kurt Busch in the saddle and I suggest they're both making a mistake.
Kurt Busch does not deserve to be out in the wilderness forever. But six months or a year away from the limelight might introduce some humility to a man who’s sorely in need of some.