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Kurt Busch, Penske Racing part ways
Kurt Busch and Roger Penske have mutually agreed to part ways after a tough season for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champ, both sides announced Monday.
After six seasons, Busch and Penske inevitably came to the realization the organization was not the best fit for the driver.
"I appreciate the victories that Kurt has brought Penske Racing and our sponsors over the past six years," Roger Penske said in a statement. "While I am disappointed that Kurt will not be racing for our team in the future, both Kurt and I felt that separating at this time was best for all parties, including our team and sponsors. I wish Kurt the best in his future racing endeavors."
Busch, 33, expressed gratitude for the opportunity Penske afforded him and said he still considers his former boss a friend and mentor.
“We talked our way through this and I appreciate the six years that I had with him and the successes that we had,” Busch said.
“Neither one of us can deny that we did a great things on the track. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me personally and the mentorship he’s offered me over the years.”
But the driver struggled with the formality of Penske Racing in the past, and the tension escalated this season with the uncertain future of Busch’s crew chief, Steve Addington, and the added stress to an already intense driver.
Despite having two years remaining on his NASCAR Sprint Cup contract, Busch realized it was time for a change.
“I’m looking for a fresh start,” Busch said. “For me, there just wasn’t any fun in racing. This, to me, developed obviously after Homestead. There’s no real one moment that led me to this point. It was just an accumulation of events.
“As I reflect back on it, I’m not sure I was the best fit for the Penske team. At times, I feel like my frankness and my intensity didn’t play as well as I intended to. To me, finding a fresh start is what I’m looking for.”
Busch understands there were many times he should have exercised more self-control throughout his Penske tenure. Over the past three months, Busch has worked with a sports psychologist to resolve many of the issues that have plagued him throughout his NASCAR career. He also understands that given the corporate culture at Penske Racing, he did not handle situations as well as he could have.
“I’d like to see plenty of things different during the Chase or during the last six months,” Busch said. “I think a lot of it behind the scenes has worked itself to the surface because of how I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I recognize that I need help taking the emotion and the passion that have helped me succeed on the track and channeling it the right way. When I get out of the car, and things don’t go my way, that’s when there’s an issue.
“So for 23 hours and 59 minutes of the day, ‘corporate Kurt’ fits in, does a great job — I think you can ask any of the corporate sponsors that I’ve worked with about how well of a job I do. But when you find yourself like I did — after Homestead, after Phoenix, after Texas, with all the results that we had, it was a pretty big snowball that turned into an avalanche.”
Despite Busch’s ability to charm corporate partners, he understands any move forward he makes in NASCAR will require work and change on his part. Busch’s talent is well documented. In 2011, he led the points for two weeks early in the season and was third in the standings after his Dover win in the Chase. In 11 full seasons, Busch has amassed 24 Sprint Cup wins and qualified for six of the eight Chase for the Sprint Cups.
Busch says ultimately he wants an opportunity that will “enable” him to get to Victory Lane — and to have a good time getting there.
“I’m wanting to challenge myself for how I can change and get better,” Busch said. “And I want to find an organization that knows how to win on a fun level. I’m looking forward to what I can do in putting the fun back in racing. I’m looking for a fresh start. This opportunity gives me this.”
Busch remains open to options for next season. Though he has enjoyed the stock-car experience, he’s not counting out opportunities to return to NHRA if the right situation were to arise. But Busch understands he has the most to offer in NASCAR. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit.
“I’m the top free-agent driver out there and I have a champion‘s resume,” Busch said with a laugh. “For me today’s decision is about me pausing, taking a deep breath and making me a better driver and a better person.
“I’m excited about the future, I’m optimistic what 2012 can bring. I have a past champion’s provision, (so) I can start any race at any time.”