The Passion of The Kurt
Kurt Busch’s late-race heroics in the Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona last Friday evening (July 6) was the type of “Born Again” moment many have been waiting for from the petulant pilot of the Phoenix Racing Chevrolets.
While AJ Allmendinger is likely bemoaning his last best chance gone awry at Penske Racing since being ousted from the No. 22 Dodge himself, Kurt Busch has spent the better part of 2012 repairing bridges he had built – and burnt – in just five short months. When he emerged from the unsponsored No. 1 machine of car owner James Finch, Busch appeared legitimately overjoyed and ecstatic with his restrictor-plate win.
It isn’t often that you see that kind of emotion from a Sprint Cup champion competing in just a Nationwide event; a Carl Edwards backflip seemed to pale in comparison to the joy felt by both driver and his crew.
“It’s just passion and heart, that’s all I can give,” said the 2004 Cup champion. “That’s all I can do right now. To do this for James Finch is awesome. To be an underfunded team, to come out only four times a year … it’s amazing to do what we can with a little team and to persevere.”
Could this be the turning point in Busch’s career and his life in general? From the genuine humility displayed at Sonoma following a late race slip up that saw him clip a stack of tires and rip the rear suspension from its mounting points and stymie any chance at a win– yet hold on to a third-place finish – is a far cry from the weekly fanatical F-bomb laced tirades of a year ago.
With some prime rides now in play for 2012, including his old horse at Penske Racing, Busch may have turned things around just in time to take advantage of some new opportunities that did not exist even two weeks ago.
Allmendinger’s suspension Saturday at Daytona prior to the start of the Coke Zero 400 was a shock to all involved, including the driver, owner Roger Penske and relief driver Sam Hornish Jr. Another party however has to be throwing their collective hands in the air as well – sponsor Shell Pennzoil.
After leaving RCR to become the new sponsor of Busch and Penske in 2011, they were host to the aforementioned radio outbursts of Busch, including a memorable dressing down of the entire engineering department at Penske – albeit one that brought about swift change and marked improvement in performance for both the No. 22 and 2 Dodges.
The final straw was the now infamous scene of an irritated Kurt Busch being less than cordial with media stalwart, ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch.
Allmendinger was brought in at the 11th hour over David Ragan and Aric Almirola as both a stopgap solution and potential Penske lifer, as the Captain has a certain fondness for open-wheel aces. Now Shell Pennzoil has their name associated with a failed drug test and wondering what recidivist might be wearing their yellow and red colors next.
At what point do they just throw in the towel and demand that Trevor Bayne be put in the car so they can ensure a trouble-free, wholesome and reliable spokesman for their brand? Then again (and no offense to Trevor) there is a popular school of thought that safe is bland, bland is boring, and the only worse thing for a racecar driver to be other than polarizing is irrelevant. After all, nobody makes headlines being a good guy.
Like Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo says in Training Day, “Sometimes you gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you.”
Good (and bad) Things Come in 3
OK, so at what point does NASCAR drop the hammer on RCR, and refrain from the now common and apparently ineffective six-point fine for rules violations? From flared fenders at Richmond to mysterious jack bolt malfunctions at Kentucky that saw the rear quarters come in too low (to keep the front splitter off the wavy track), and now loose vent hoses during qualifying at Daytona to direct airflow and alter air pressure around the car.
For those who carp and moan about Chad Knaus’ run-ins with the inspection police, at least he’s actually caught with awesome mods and disciplined harshly.
RCR on the other hand seems to be getting away repeatedly with rules violations, even those that result in a victory margin of over nine seconds. As much as phantom debris cautions raise the ire of fans, so should incidents such as these.
It probably doesn’t help that the car owner and former series owner were close friends; Jack Roush still credits a promise by the late Bill France to Childress after he phoned him to complain of an apparent rules violation, helping him win the 1990 Winston Cup Championship, after Roush and driver Mark Martin were fined 46-points for a carburetor spacer that was essentially OK’d by a technical bulletin and three prior inspections.
The No. 3 and No. 2 RCR Nationwide teams have both been the subject of fines this season, but it is the No. 3 that seems to be catching quite a bit of attention and heat lately – and is none the worse for wear for it.
NASCAR needs to start issuing penalties with teeth, particularly if they’re going to result in the type of dominating win at Kentucky, when the second-place finisher gets smoked by a third of a lap. I know, the black No. 3 made it back to victory lane and that had to be the big story that week – but at what cost to the integrity to the series and the sport?
No offense to No. 3 fans (as I don’t need a rock through my window), and I believe that many agree with me that seeing that particular car back on the track and running up front brings back some warm memories, but having it win under dubious circumstances is a little hollow, and in a way tarnishes the image of the facsimile of a legend that is out on the track currently.
Also, Austin, please lose the cowboy hat. It’s not working out. Even The Intimidator gave them up in ’82.
About the author
Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.
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