Busch suspended for season's final two races
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The reaction by Roush Racing was swift and final: Kurt Busch, the reigning Nextel Cup champion, was suspended Sunday for the remainder of the NASCAR season after his run-in with police.
"It's the last straw for Roush Racing," team president Geoff Smith said yesterday. "We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."
Kenny Wallace replaced Busch for yesterday's race at Phoenix, where Busch won in April. He also will miss next week's Ford 400 in Homestead, Fla.
Busch was cited for reckless driving Friday night near Phoenix International Raceway. Officers said he smelled of alcohol and was belligerent after he was stopped for trying to avoid another car and running a stop sign.
Busch, who has a history of run-ins on and off the track with drivers and NASCAR officials, was staying in a motorhome outside the track. He appeared to be holding back tears as he told NBC Sports that alcohol was not involved in the incident.
"Obviously, I'm upset. It's tough. I'm a race car driver, there's a race today, and I'd love to be in the race," he said. "My crew, (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig, I have to thank them for what they gave me. Man, it's just unfortunate. I'd love to be there for them today.
"That's the decision they made, and I will live with it."
Busch made the Chase for the championship but was running in eighth place, virtually eliminated from a shot at winning another title.
"He's a young man with great potential that has been realized to an extent, but he's got some challenges building relationships in the public and the sponsors community to realize that potential," Roush said. "I wish him well."
Busch is under contract to the Roush team through the end of the season. He will not be allowed to drive for anyone else in 2005.
"He would have to get permission, and we would be very reluctant to give it," Smith said. "It's very offensive to us that he chose to take on the arresting officer the way he did verbally. And then the fact there was alcohol, even in the smallest way, involved."
The police report said the officer who stopped Busch smelled alcohol on the driver's breath, although Busch was not cited for that. A breath test was inconclusive because the device failed.
Police said Busch initially did not stop when a deputy tried to pull him over and, when Busch did stop, he was argumentative and uncooperative, prompting a call for a supervisor.
When asked Saturday about Busch's confrontation with police, team owner Jack Roush said it was no longer his problem since Busch is joining another team after this season. Roush later took a tougher stance once he learned the response of the public and sponsors, which includes the Crown Royal whiskey brand.
Roush said the sponsors felt he was "in breach of my contract by allowing that notoriety and embarrassment to be out there without taking some action. And the only action I felt I could take, and the one that was agreed upon, was to suspend him for the balance of the season."
Busch qualified 17th for yesterday's race. He is joining Penske Racing South next season, taking over the No. 2 Dodge from retiring Rusty Wallace.
Roger Penske, who will be Busch's new boss, said he was not involved in the decision to suspend Busch.
"Roush Racing has their business decision to make," Penske said. "This situation is unfortunate for high-profile athletes who are under significant scrutiny.
"Kurt made a public apology to the sheriff (Saturday night)," he added. "We support him 100 percent for the future, and we will work with him to be a great driver."
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said sitting Busch was a team decision. Asked if NASCAR would take punitive action, Hunter said, "We'll let the judicial process take its course. He's got a hearing set in December.
He said NASCAR has not yet spoken with Busch.
"This is not exactly the kind of publicity we like to have in connection with the Chase or the series itself," he said.
The 27-year-old driver from Las Vegas was punched in the face by Jimmy Spencer for trying to wreck him. He was called an "arrogant punk" by Kevin Harvick and is booed by fans who don't like his aggressive driving.
At Darlington in May, Busch refused to go where he was told after returning to the track following a crash. He then was called into the pits for a penalty and responded with expletives. He also tossed a water bottle that hit the NASCAR official in his pit.
NASCAR officials have said his behavior is not "befitting of a champion."
Wallace, a full-time driver in the Busch Series, finished 12th on this track Saturday. He said he got a call about driving Busch's car about 9 a.m. yesterday.
"It's a sad situation, but I'm ready, willing and able to do this," Wallace said.
The 42-year-old Wallace, a younger brother of Rusty Wallace, has driven in 308 Cup races, including three this year, since making his debut in 1990. His last full season in Cup was 2003.
"I'm a Ford driver, and I'm here," Wallace said when asked why he was chosen to fill in for Busch. "It seems like everybody believes in my talent."
Smith said the deal with Wallace most likely will be only for this race. Roush driver Todd Kluever, who currently races in the truck series, is expected to drive at Homestead.