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$50K the going rate for middle fingers and "F bombs"

by Dave Grayson
Saturday, November 26, 2011

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Kurt Busch must make sponsor Pennzoil proud.  Not!
Dependent upon the precise set of circumstances, sometimes freedom of speech isn't necessarily free. Ask NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch who just recently found out that there's a significant rise in the cost of middle fingers and "F bombs." It now appears that the going rate for this form of self expression is $50,000 according to NASCAR officials.

The latest controversy, surrounding a Busch brother, began during the NASCAR Sprint Cup's season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Three laps into this race, the transmission of Busch's Shell-Pennzoil/Penske Racing Dodge completely disintegrated. Bear in mind this is a driver who subjects his crew chief and team members to brutal verbal abuse via in car radio comments over simple matters like a loose or tight handling condition. Imagine how angry this volatile driver was over taking his car behind the wall after only running three laps.

The first sign of abusive self expression came when Busch presented a one finger salute from his car window while motoring his way to the garage. Unfortunately, this gesture was noticed by an ESPN Network camera man who was, also unfortunately, shooting live on the air.

Part two of Busch exercising his freedom of speech came in the garage while waiting for a live ESPN interview with pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch. Busch got a little antsy while waiting for the ESPN broadcast director to cue to live interview and the longer he waited he madder he became.

Turning his attention to someone outside of the camera shot, Busch startled everyone by yelling "can you get this mother f****r out of my face?" Busch next asked Jerry Punch, "why can't we tape this s**t? " Punch replied "I think they wanted to do this live," at which point Busch responded with "I wanted to do it live too, ten f*****g minutes ago." That's when Jerry Punch wisely walked away after telling his director "never mind."

However, the problems with Busch's latest tirade wasn't quite over yet. It seems that someone standing near the scene recorded everything the driver said. By the following Tuesday morning the age of modern technology, along with the phenomenon known as viral videos, entered this situation and Busch's comments to Jerry Punch was on the "You Tube" highlight reel.

Enter the spin doctors. On the Tuesday following the race, Roger Penske Racing issued a statement that read; "Penske Racing extends its apologies to Dr. Jerry Punch, our media partners, our sponsors and fans for Kurt Busch's inappropriate actions in Homestead on Sunday. These actions do not represent Penske Racing and are inconsistent with the company's standards for behavior, respect for others and professionalism. The matter will be reviewed internally with no further comment."

The Penske statement was followed by comments from their race driver who said: "unfortunately, our result in the season ending race at Homestead on Sunday was not what we had hoped for as a team. In my frustration with the loss of my transmission early in the race, I let my emotions get the better of me. I regret having done this and apologize to the sponsors of Penske Racing, to NASCAR, its fans, to the media and in particular Dr. Jerry Punch."

At first it was believed that NASCAR would not be taking any official action against Busch. The morning following the Homestead race NASCAR official spokesman Kerry Tharp said "clearly, Kurt was frustrated with what happened with his car early in the race, however his choice of language at the time was disappointing."

However by the following Friday afternoon NASCAR issued a prepared statement that said the driver was going to be fined for his behavior. That statement read: "NASCAR has fined Kurt Busch $50,000 for his actions during the November 20th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR determined that Busch violated Section 12-1, (actions detrimental to stock car racing-inappropriate hand gesture; abusive language) of the 2011 NASCAR Rule Book."

"In issuing the penalty, NASCAR cited Kurt Busch's poor judgment in making an inappropriate hand gesture when he drove his car into the garage area early in the race after it experienced transmission problems. In addition, NASCAR said Kurt Busch showed disrespect towards a media member, an incident that followed similar inappropriate media confrontations earlier in the season."

A tip of the racing hat goes to NASCAR officials for addressing this situation. This driver's action were seriously inappropriate and the action taken by the sanctioning body was more than warranted.

Another tip of the racing hat goes to the ESPN Network, as well as Dr. Jerry Punch, for declining further comment on this incident while choosing to allow NASCAR to handle the situation.

We probably should also tip the racing hat towards whomever it was who recorded the incident and made sure it landed on the Internet.

Hopefully this driver has seen this video by now and will recognize the fact that it's time he found a way to control his anger. As abusive as he was to Dr. Jerry Punch and ESPN, it pales in comparison to the frequent verbal abuses aimed at his team over their radio system. There's even been times when his radio comments were aimed at team owner Roger Penske.

This behavior is likely one of the reasons why Steve Addington, Busch's crew chief for the past two seasons, has left the team. The driver was officially informed by the crew chief of his departure on the Monday afternoon following the Homestead race. It's widely believed that an announcement is coming soon that says Addington will be joining Stewart-Haas Racing to become 2011 Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart's new crew chief.

Kurt Busch is an extraordinarily talented driver who has the NASCAR stats to back that up. He's was the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion in 2004 and now has 24 Cup wins with a career 16.9 average finish ratio.

At the still young age of 32, he has a lot of competitive years left in him. But, at the age of 32, it's also time for him to complete the maturity process and find a way to control that anger that frequently gets the best of him before it causes him additional embarrassment.

If he hasn't already done so, then here's hoping Kurt Busch will take a hard look at the Homestead video, currently on the Internet, and learn from it.

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