Monday, April 27, 2015

Talladega And The Rise Fall And Rebirth Of Kurt Busch

Well didn't that beat all.

Toyota provided sponsorship of the Richmond 400 for 2015, but it didn't help Toyota teams - or Ford teams, for that matter; the two brands combined for just six finishers in the top 20 - as Kurt Busch and Chevrolet bitch-slapped the field.  Busch led 291 of 400 laps for his first win since the 2014 Virginia 500.   Coming as the first NASCAR driver in recent memory suspended for off-track ugliness - and it says something about how disreputable a person he is that he's gotten three suspensions -  Busch's win is another twist in a career that's been controversial almost from its very beginning.

Busch's career began after the shooting death of Dick Trickle's nephew Chris Trickle, a driver on NASCAR's Southwest Tour.   Busch replaced Trickle and won the Tour title in 1999.   He thus got a tryout in Jack Roush's "Gong Show" driver development program and was signed to drive one of Roush's NASCAR Truck Fords.

His first race was the Daytona 250 in 2000 and it set the tone for his career - he hooked two trucks hard into each other in the trioval and it blasted Geoff Bodine into the fencing, ripping out 100 feet of fencing and wiping out over a dozen trucks.   He won four races and was promoted to the former Chad Little Winston Cup team, where he posted six top-tens and famously swerved Dale Earnhardt at the ill-fated Daytona 500, earning a petulant gesture from Earnhardt.   His breakthrough win came at the Southeastern 500 at Bristol in 2002 when he stayed out after pitting on Lap 325 and never pitted again.   He edged Jimmy Spencer in that race and had another more controversial pair of encounters with Spencer, first at the 2002 Brickyard 400 when he sideslammed Spencer and Spencer hit back, taking Busch out.   At the 2003 Yankee 400 the two tapped several times, then a fight erupted in the garage that earned Spencer a suspension by NASCAR; Busch was booed at Bristol the next week when he won.  

Busch got fired from Roush Racing in November 2005 when he was arrested for the ultimate driving sin of DUI and attacked cops involved.   Roush's spokesman famously declared they were finished as Busch's apologists.

Penske Racing signed him on and the fights continued, as Kurt got into it with brother Kyle at Charlotte in 2007, then came his meltdown year of 2011.  He got into Jimmie Johnson at Richmond and physically attacked Joe Menzer, a NASCAR reporter, in a postrace interview.   At Loudon he lied in a postrace presser about it, then tore up a transcript in possession of reporter Jenna Fryer that proved the fight; a November set-to with ABC's Jerry Punch finally led to his firing from Penske.

He was hired by James Finch's low-budget organization, competing in both the Busch series and Winston Cup; he crashed Ryan Newman at Darlington and nearly struck several of Newman's crewmen, which led to another near-brawl and a probationary period for Busch.   When he threatened to attack reporter Bob Pockrass at Dover, NASCAR suspended him for the Pocono race.

He then did something shocking - he won the 2012 Firecracker 250 at Daytona in one of the greatest races Daytona and the Busch series had ever seen, but the punk inside never changed; more incidents followed in 2013 and finally came the domestic abuse scandal that got him suspended (again) in 2015.

Driving for the now-powerhouse Stewart-Haas team, Busch has once again showed what his talent level is - and he's also shown that he has no business holding a competition license.    His rise, fall, and rebirth have been there for everyone to see, and the next fall will be there as well.


Talladega thus beckons as the 2015 season has become yet another all-Chevrolet show.   The fall of Ford is especially painful to those who remember the effort Ford undertook to win the manufacturer title after GM cars won it 1976-91; Ford would win six of the next eleven manufacturer titles.   Dodge's 2001-12 presence didn't change the balance of power in the series as some no doubt hoped it would, and Toyota's presence has been decidedly lackluster overall.  

Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske are the only non-Chevy teams putting up any real fight, as the collapse of Roush-Fenway continues with a driver lineup that shows no future; only Richard Petty's #43 - a team that ought to be a Dodge - has shown any other non-Penske Ford moxie.   The Michael Waltrip Toyota team likewise has been a non-starter as far as competitive fight has gone.

Not only has it been an all-Chevrolet show, it's been an all Stewart-Hass vs. Hendrick show, with Talladega almost the first weekend since Daytona to offer the chance of non-Chervolet resistance to actually win a battle.    The RCR bunch, while better than last year, still isn't any threat, and those who held out hope for the return of the number 3 have to cringe at the poor performance of Austin Dillon.  

It hasn't been all peaches and herb for Stewart-Haas, though - Tony Stewart has slipped almost to irrelevance and Danica Patrick can't sustain what little success she's gotten.

So it all awaits this weekend at Talladega.

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