Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 106- Kurt Busch: The Outlaw

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to The Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional opportunity to take a look at some motorsports-related programming. Today’s special Wednesday edition will not be the last Annex of the year. A later edition will cover the recently released sophomore NASCAR effort from Activision and Eutechnyx, NASCAR the Game: Inside Line. The game is available for the Xbox 360

However, today’s program of emphasis is a documentary that premiered just last week on SPEED. We’re all aware of Kurt Busch’s somewhat volatile personality, his tirades at members of the media during press conferences and in normal interviews, and an attitude that has hurt him in the past. The one-hour special is designed to (hopefully) show us the real Kurt Busch. We’ll just see about that.

Kurt is apparently still angry about how he is represented. Let’s just the say that the special starts with a mini-rant about how the media edits everything that happens with Kurt so as to create falsehood. I’d argue that it isn’t true, but because of it, Busch decides to put everything out there in real time. It reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons when Homer is interviewed in an office and they cut the bejesus out of it. The whole time it’s happening, there is a wall clock in the background and viewers could see the hands constantly switch to different positions based upon where the cuts were made. Instead of the media’s point of view of everything that has happened, we’re getting his point of view.

From here, the scene shifts to Baltimore, Maryland in September. Kurt splits time between here and the Charlotte area with his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, and her son Houston. With a backdrop of the simple morning routine, Busch talks about 2012 up to that point where he describes it as the toughest year of his career. Lets just say that he isn’t pleased about how he is perceived. He believes that he is 97 percent good, but no one ever wants to talk about the good. They only talk about the bad.

I suppose he’s right, but he’s missing something. As of the writing of this critique, Kevin Clash is currently going through a public fall from grace, as is General David Petraeus. Granted, they are for very different reasons, but the point is the following. Kurt Busch is a public figure. Sure, it’s nice to hear about donating to charitable causes and helping out disabled veterans (which he does, and really likes to do) and seeing him as a doting father to his girlfriend’s son from another relationship. However, the bad outweighs the good in many situations. I’m not saying whether or not it’s right, but it is the truth. If it’s bad enough, even the accusation of it (in Clash’s case) can kill a long career and render you a permanent pariah.

After explaining a little about the transmission failure in Homestead, Busch gave a running commentary of his thoughts while waiting for the interview with Dr. Jerry Punch that never happened. Footage from the “infamous YouTube video”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsaBQq5D4Zg was shown to help us along. Here, he states that he wasn’t angry at Dr. Punch but rather that it just looked like he was. Instead, he was angry with Dr. Punch’s cameraman, who pointed his camera in his face for something like ten minutes straight so that he would be ready when they went live. I can understand that kind of frustration. It was basically an error by ESPN’s Producer. They should have just taped it as quick as they could and aired it later, or found a way to do it live earlier. Had either one of those options been chosen, we would have only been commenting on Busch flipping off a truck instead of the firestorm that ultimately occurred.

Busch admits that his career might have started out with a little too much success, and that likely led to the infamous rivalry with Jimmy Spencer. He claimed that the spanking after Spencer wrecked him in the 2002 Brickyard 400 was a sign that Spencer should have been sent to the rear. I can understand that because it is a move often used by flagmen at short tracks like The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Busch got his start. However, such a directive is not typically made so expressively and repeatedly. Just pointing to Spencer, then his behind, would have been plenty (Spencer got a one-race suspension and Busch was placed on probation). Also, that was the second time he had expressed his anger on-track after the crash. The first time around, Busch had thrown his hands up as if to say “What the Deuce?” to Spencer. He had had enough, and I believe him. I’d be ticked off too if someone wrecked me at the end of the backstretch at 180 miles an hour.

Busch continued on and said that NBC broadcasting his radio chatter that indicated an intentional attempt to flatten Spencer’s fender at Michigan in 2003 turned the general public against him. However, he never gave any reasoning as to why he tried to flatten Spencer’s fender. Did Spencer do something to tick him off again, or was it just because it was Spencer?

Later, we learn a little bit about the work ethic of both of the Busch brothers. Their father, Tom, could be best described as a workaholic who would work for 12 to 13 hours a day, every day. That was just life for him. Kurt was the little kid who would help out from time to time with a small piece of sandpaper that likely didn’t do anything at all. Prior to Kyle getting in a race car, the whole affair was more fun than anything else as Kurt raced against his father multiple times. It only got ultra competitive once Kyle started racing.

In regards to the infamous pull-over in 2005, Busch claims that the deputy actually did know who he was (at the time, it was rumored that Busch supposedly yelled, “Do you know who I am!” at the deputy), and it was part of the reason why he flipped out after he was cuffed, despite passing the field sobriety tests without resistance. He isn’t necessarily angry at the media here for what they reported, but more at the deputy and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the well-known elected Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for dragging his name through the mud and costing him his job at Roush Racing. Arpaio tried to make good with a badge (which Busch still has) later on, but he’s still ticked over it. At the time, the situation almost sounded like Busch was lucky to not end up in Arpaio’s Tent City.

The Darlington incident earlier this year was described as an instance in which he was accused of endangering Ryan Newman’s crew. Busch didn’t believe he did, but it was a little close. Then, he accidentally ran into the back of Newman’s car on pit road. Before he could get pushed away, members of Newman’s crew went after him and apparently said some really inappropriate stuff about Driscoll. I don’t know what that was, but I can understand Busch being angry there. At the time, I thought the incident was ridiculous. It didn’t make any sense to me.

The “refraining from kicking your ” comment at Dover was explained as basically a spur of the moment quote that he can’t take back. Busch didn’t exactly express contrition, but thought that Bob Pockrass’s question was ridiculous since it referred to something that happened at the very beginning of the race. It’s apparently nothing different to Busch than if Allen Bestwick says something incorrectly in the broadcast booth for ESPN. That doesn’t mean that an accidental Bestwick flub is equal to Busch threatening to beat up Bob Pockrass, because it isn’t. However, the explanation Busch gives is very similar to how Bestwick would explain a flub.

Probably the most interesting thing that was revealed in the piece is that Phoenix Racing owner James Finch nixed a number of potential sponsorship deals for the team so that he could “go after the big fish.” Uh, that’s nice and all if this were 1998. That’s not a good strategy if you want to survive today. It’s not far off suicide, actually. I’d argue that Busch would never admit that it was part of the reason why he left Phoenix Racing before the season ended for Furniture Row, but it had to have played a role.

The show ends with Talladega and Busch getting parked for driving off with the EMT’s equipment on his roof after he wrecked. Busch’s position is that he thought the car would still roll and he got it started. That explanation is not dissimilar to “Dale Earnhardt after his roll in the 1997 Daytona 500”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWRj6cs8SRg#t=3m22s. However, times have changed since 1997. I guess you can’t just get out of the car after a wreck and immediately get back in without seeking medical treatment these days.

Let’s just say that Busch made a really stupid mistake by not putting his helmet back on before he drove off, and not waiting until the EMT’s removed their equipment. Had he done that, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion now. However, because of his choices, he got parked by NASCAR and didn’t know that he’d been parked until Nick Harrison (his crew chief) told him so in the garage. Afterwards, there was a massive throng of media members waiting to hear from him. However, instead of saying something that he would regret, he took the time to thank his crew members personally, calmed down, then faced the throng.

Overall, the tone of the documentary is a bit defeatist. Kurt Busch realizes now that he cannot win. At least part of his problems are self-inflicted. It appears that he functions on instinct a little too much, and that has created a lot of his problems. However, despite those problems, he’s still a very talented racer.

However, he also comes off as a little paranoid at times. It’s never outright stated, but it appears that he thinks that people are out to get him. Do I think that’s the truth? No, at least not with the assembled media at the track. Pockrass definitely isn’t out to get him, even though the Dover situation was at least the second time that Busch was visibly angry at Pockrass in less than a year (the previous July, he angrily read a prepared statement during a press conference after Pockrass asked about the then-generally unknown Driscoll in a press conference that I just so happened to be in attendance at. The reasoning for the question: Busch had won the previous week in Sonoma and she kissed him in Victory Lane, and his wife Eva–whom he had quietly separated from–was nowhere to be seen).

However, the explanation for the traffic stop in Avondale definitely makes it sound like the deputy tried to elevate himself and/or the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department at Busch’s expense. I’d like to see the deputy’s side of the story before making a definitive yea or nay on that situation, though. Knowing how much of a publicity hog that the now 80-year old Arpaio is (see the recent investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate using public funds), I wouldn’t be surprised if the call came in over the radio to nail Busch. It would be consistent with the behavior of Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department over the past 20 years.

Having said all that, the special was very well put together, if potentially a little misguided (due to Busch’s wishes). We got a raw look at life as a racer from Busch’s perspective. At times, it’s a pretty sweet life. At other times, it can be a nightmare. However, I wouldn’t necessarily call Busch an “Outlaw.” That’s just marketing.

I hope you liked this look at Kurt Busch: The Outlaw. Stay tuned over the winter months for the aforementioned critique of NASCAR the Game: Inside Line. Until then, enjoy the off-season.

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