The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race at Pocono this weekend, but notably absent will be 2004 champion Kurt Busch. On Monday (June 4), the sanctioning body suspended the Phoenix Racing driver for 10 days, punishment for Busch violating his probation after losing his cool during an interview with a media member.
On Saturday, following the Nationwide race at Dover Busch threatened Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass on pit road after Pockrass asked Busch whether being on probation with the sanctioning body made him drive differently on the racetrack.
The question came after Busch had contact with Justin Allgaier, causing both drivers to engage in a heated postrace discussion about the incident. Busch’s angry response was then captured by a SPEED television camera and has since gone viral on the Internet.
“It refrains me from not beating the f— out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions,” was Busch’s terse reply.
Busch has been on NASCAR probation since an incident at Darlington in which he did a burnout through Ryan Newman’s pit box and then rammed Newman’s car on pit road. Angry over a late-race spin, one that Newman had no involvement in Busch later claimed that he didn’t see the No. 39 because he was taking his helmet off.
That still earned him a $50,000 fine from NASCAR, probation through July 25 and criticism from Newman, who insinuated the driver had anger-management issues.
This week’s suspension is for violations of Section 12-1 of the NASCAR rulebook, in particular actions detrimental to stock car racing and verbal abuse of a media member. In addition, Busch’s probationary period was extended through Dec. 31, meaning any subsequent infractions could earn an even harsher penalty.
In response to the incident, Busch issued the following statement:
“I accept NASCAR’s decision. I put them in a box, they had to take action and it’s my fault for putting them in this position. I apologize for the comments I made to Bob Pockrass.”
There is no word yet from Phoenix Racing as to who will replace Busch for this weekend at Pocono or whether the car will run the distance though the names Brian Vickers and David Reutimann were thrown around by Finch in a phone call with ESPN.com’s David Newton; at this time, the No. 51 is unsponsored heading into Sunday’s 400-miler.
“If he’s going to kill himself I’m not going to be in the airplane with him. If that’s what he’s planning on doing, I am going to get out,” “Finch said. “We’ll get squared away. There are a helluva lot of [drivers] out there.”
Busch’s latest incident was the second time since November in which the driver has been penalized for his treatment of media members. He was fined $50,000 after the 2011 season finale in Homestead after an “obscenity-filled tirade at ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch was caught on video.
There was speculation at the time that the incident was the final straw in Busch’s subsequent release from Penske Racing. Busch also had well-publicized confrontations with two reporters following last fall’s race at Richmond, though he was not penalized for either incident.
Suspensions are relatively rare in NASCAR. In fact, this move marks just the third time since 2007 that a driver has been forced to sit out a race. Kyle Busch was parked at Texas last year after an on-track run-in with Ron Hornaday Jr.; back in 2007, Robby Gordon sat out an August Pocono visit after failing to heed instructions from NASCAR officials during a Nationwide race at Montreal.
Busch’s suspension also marks the first time since 2003 that this type of punishment has been given for an incident that occurred off the track. Ironically, Busch was the “innocent victim” in the last one as Jimmy Spencer was forced to sit out the Bristol night race for his off-track behavior following an incident between the two at Michigan.
Spencer reportedly punched Busch after the race once he learned Busch was trying to intentionally wreck him during that event.
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