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NASCAR 'has at' Busch-league Kyle
FORT WORTH, Texas
The "Boys, have at it" era has been by far the most scintillating in NASCAR’s history.
But while Texas Motor Speedway may have “No Limits” when it comes to action at the track, NASCAR established its own boundaries on Saturday when the sanctioning body elected to park Kyle Busch for the remainder of the weekend.
On Friday night, Busch tangled with Ron Hornaday on Lap 14 during the Winstar World Casino 350, then deliberately destroyed Hornaday's No. 33 truck under caution.
Apparently, NASCAR reached its limit.
President Mike Helton said the responsibility that the sanctioning body gave back to the drivers on the track over the last few seasons “came with a very clear understanding that there could be a line that got crossed.”
After officials reviewed the situation between Busch and Hornaday and factored in previous altercations the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had with other competitors, NASCAR elected to park Busch for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races this weekend.
“As annoying as the comments that I’ve made personally in the past about, 'We’ll know it when we see it,' might have been, ‘We saw it last night,’ ” Helton said Saturday.
“Obviously, after the event a lot of folks put their heads together to decide what if anything we would do, and what I’m telling you today is our reaction.”
The parking likely ends Busch's slim hopes of a NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and also ends his streak of 249 consecutive starts in the series. Busch entered the weekend in seventh place, trailing Carl Edwards by 57 points with three races to go.
Busch was sidelined according to NASCAR rule 9-12, “Parking.” The rule allows “a supervisory official (to) direct a competitor to cease competition … for the balance of the race or future NASCAR races if it is necessary to do so in order to promote the orderly conduct of the NASCAR event(s).''
While Busch, 26, is one of the greatest talents to join the stock-car ranks, he has more than earned his monikers of “Rowdy” and “Wild Thing” over the last nine years.
And most recently, Kevin Harvick has served as Busch’s most stringent nemesis.
“Happy” dumped Busch in the season finale at Homestead-Miami last November. The rivalry hit a crescendo at Darlington in May after Harvick pounded Busch. Then Busch's No. 18 Toyota “hooked” Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet, according to Harvick.
The row then continued on pit road — and that’s when NASCAR stepped in. Both drivers were placed on a six-week probation and fined $25,000 for “actions detrimental” to the sport.
For Harvick, the gloves came off at Pocono in June even before probation ended. Harvick chased Busch two laps into the Pocono Cup race before NASCAR came over the radio with a warning.
For Harvick’s Cup owner Richard Childress, the watch came off the week before at Kansas Speedway. RC delivered a warning to Busch at the Nationwide banquet in November to leave his equipment alone or face the consequences.
Childress, who remains under probation, was unable to comment on NASCAR’s decision after speaking with officials.
It’s not surprising that, of all drivers on the track, Busch targeted Harvick’s racer Ron Hornaday on Friday night.
Certainly there were championship implications involved for Hornaday, who entered the weekend third in the truck standings, 15 points behind leader Austin Dillon. After finishing 34th in the race, Hornaday — a four-time truck champ — dropped to fourth in the standings, and his point deficit grew to 48.
Hornaday is just the latest casualty of Busch’s Harvick/RCR/KHI vendetta.
That’s not to say that Harvick has been completely innocent in the ongoing saga, or that he hasn’t fueled the fire.
Following Friday night’s race, Harvick tweeted: "Pressure is on @NASCAR now to handle this crap before someone gets hurt .... we aren't racing late models.''
Helton said the implications to the No. 33 truck’s championship hopes “probably had a small impact on the reaction. But the punishment itself was specifically directed toward the actions of the driver of the No. 18 truck.
“Obviously, when an occurrence occurs at a racetrack, the NASCAR official community in general works to minimize the ripple effect of what actually might have happened, what might could happen afterwards during the event last [Friday] night or any one going forward, for that matter.”
NASCAR has taken extreme measures in disciplining drivers before. Harvick was parked for the Martinsville Cup race in 2002 for an incident involving — ironically enough — Coy Gibbs in a truck race.
In August 2003, Jimmy Spencer was parked for an on-track altercation and subsequent punching of Kurt Busch at Michigan.
NASCAR showed its displeasure with Robby Gordon’s disregard of its authority at Montreal and parked him the next day at Pocono.
Recently, however, the only ongoing feud with a history as volatile and violent as the Busch/Harvick grudge match is the Brad Keselowski/Carl Edwards battle. But with both drivers entrenched in the Chase, Bad Brad and The Carl have focused their energy on winning the Sprint Cup title.
Helton said NASCAR’s latest reaction is part of “the evolution of a policy or procedure.”
Certainly, Edwards punting Keselowski at Atlanta in 2010 was equally heinous. Edwards' deed resulted in the driver of the No. 99 being parked — but Keselowski ended up in the infield care center.
Edwards nailed Keselowski again in July during the Nationwide Series race at Gateway. He received a $25,000 fine and lost 60 driver points. Both drivers were placed on probation until the end of the year.
Since NASCAR allowed the drivers to self-police themselves on the track, Helton said, Saturday’s punishment “is the most severe reaction under these circumstances.” He added that the accumulation of Busch’s previous indiscretions had “an influence, but not an overriding influence.”
For Keselowski, ratcheting up the penance is a little late in coming.
“I don’t see a big difference in what happened last year and what happened yesterday [Friday],” Keselowski said.
“I think I’m in shock that all this really happened, to be honest. It’s a weird, weird deal. I wish that it wouldn’t have, but I’m glad I’m not involved in it for the first time.”
Given Busch’s attempt to be on his best behavior for the majority of this season, it’s a shame to see a driver that gifted experience a complete meltdown.
At 26, he still has time to redeem himself. That will be necessary for his longevity within the NASCAR community.
On Saturday, Busch’s Sprint Cup owner, Gibbs, acknowledged that as the owner — regardless of the situation occurring in the truck series — the responsibility for his drivers' actions “rests with me.”
However, over the course of Gibbs' NASCAR tenure, his drivers — Busch, and certainly Tony Stewart before — have been enabled by the management at JGR. At some point, Gibbs has to exert his role as boss.
For some time, there have been rumors regarding M&Ms growing displeasure with Busch’s behavior — and the rumors escalated on Saturday. When attempting to sell candy to children — even the world’s most popular confection — it’s difficult to explain why a spokesperson is using a 3,400-pound race car as a weapon.
And there would be no tap dancing by Gibbs on Saturday when detailing the Busch situation to primary sponsors Mars and Z-Line as to why replacement drivers would be needed this weekend.
Gibbs is masterful at attracting sponsors, but the last thing any company needs in this economic climate is a reason, other than performance, for benefactors to look elsewhere or be so turned off by boorish behavior that they leave the sport altogether.
If the Chase wasn’t over for Busch before this weekend, it is now. Busch must set his sights on 2012. He’s already shattered records in NASCAR. No doubt the potential is there, and, one hopes, Busch can continue this run.
But as Busch learned on Saturday, NASCAR does have its limits. It would be in his best interests not to test those boundaries again.