Reports: Penske to replace Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch will no longer be driving for Penske Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, according to multiple reports Sunday.
Penske will be replacing Busch for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, according to The Charlotte Observer, which first reported the breakup.
Busch, 33, has been with the organization since 2006. He has 11 full seasons of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition to his credit and won the 2004 championship.
He has 24 wins in his Cup career. He has 169 top-10 finishes, 88 of them top fives, as well as 15 pole positions.
However, the driver has been the center of controversy off and on this season after a series of confrontations with media members and verbal diatribes against his own crew during races.
After the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch was fined $50,000 by the sanctioning body for an inappropriate hand gesture and for being verbally abusive to a media member. This followed a pair of confrontations with media members after the final regular-season race, at Richmond International Raceway.
After the latest incident, Busch issued an apology, and his sponsor weighed in with its own response.
“Shell and Pennzoil are disappointed with recent actions by driver, Kurt Busch, at the final race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race season,” the company said in a statement. “His actions are in no way consistent with the way we want our brands represented and we have expressed our disappointment and concerns directly to Penske Racing.”
Penske issued a statement shortly after the race weekend when a video of Busch’s reaction to a reporter was posted by a fan on YouTube.
“These actions do not represent Penske Racing and are inconsistent with the company’s standards for behavior, respect for others and professionalism,” the statement read. “This matter is being reviewed internally with no further comment at this time.”
During Champions Week festivities in Las Vegas, Busch acknowledged to working with a sports psychologist to work on his demeanor.
''You can work 364 days on being positive and building toward a better platform, and it can take just one day to knock it all back,'' Busch said last week. ''I need to harness what happens in the race car and keep it there, and then I need to step out of the car and understand that if we didn't reach our goal for that day or that moment, that it's going to be alright at the end.''
Speculation points to David Ragan as the leading candidate for the job. Ragan spent the 2011 season with Roush Fenway Racing, but his future has been in doubt since the team lost sponsorship for next season. He earned his first career Sprint Cup victory this season, at Daytona International Speedway.
Other candidates for the job include David Reutimann and Brian Vickers — two drivers who drove in the Sprint Cup Series this past season but are without a ride for 2012 — and Sam Hornish Jr., who has previously driven for Penske at the Sprint Cup level.