News & Media

Menzer: It's time for Busch to take a long look in the mirror

November 05, 2011, Joe Menzer,

FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Temper again gets Busch and wipes away any goodwill he's accrued this season

It's too bad, really, when good folks begin to run out of valid excuses for the bad behavior of someone who has otherwise genuinely earned their admiration and affection.

So it was with Joe Gibbs and others from Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. There were no willing apologists for Kyle Busch's actions at the 1.5-mile track on Friday night, even amongst his most extreme loyalists -- and rightly so.


Kyle Busch was parked in the Truck Series race at Texas after he retaliated under caution with Ron Hornaday, ending Hornaday's title hopes.

There were no plausible excuses for Busch's bizarre and costly behavior, when he simply lost control of his own emotions and decided to deliberately wreck Ron Hornaday during a caution period in the early going of a Camping World Truck Series race.

Gibbs met bravely with the media Saturday morning shortly after meeting with NASCAR and having yet another heart-to-heart talk with Busch in the driver's motorhome. Gibbs did make one mistake. Asked about Busch's actions, he said, "I take full responsibility for it."

Please don't, Joe.

Busch can be an engaging personality. He has worked hard to improve his image as one of racing's bad boys. But it's like he's an addict in the worst way. He can go days, weeks and sometimes even months without blowing up or doing something stupid -- and then blow all that good work in a split second of anger-infused idiocy.

That's what happened when Busch lost his mind and wrecked Hornaday, who happened to enter Friday's WinStar World Casino 350K with a real chance of making a run at point leader Austin Dillon and putting himself in position to win a fifth Truck Series championship. Of course, Busch was racing for a possible owners' championship in the series and no one in their right mind thought for a moment that he should simply get out of Hornaday's way.

But to deliberately take him out -- hard, nose-first into the wall -- during a caution period? There are those, such as Hornaday's truck owner Kevin Harvick, who suggested this was a "defining moment" in the much-debated "boys-have-at-it" era ushered in by NASCAR prior to the 2010 season.

But in reality, this was more like "idiot-have-at-it" and NASCAR responded in the appropriate fashion by parking Busch for the remainder of the weekend. He was not permitted to race in Saturday's Nationwide event and, more importantly, will not be behind the wheel of his familiar No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in Sunday's AAA Texas 500.

Kenny's lesson

At 57 points behind leader Carl Edwards coming into the weekend, Busch almost certainly was already too far behind in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. But what if he had done the nearly impossible and won the last three races? What if Edwards and the other six drivers in front of him somehow encountered trouble in the last three, while Busch got hot?

Now we'll never know. The bat has been taken from Busch's hands late in the game because he tried to beat somebody over the head with it.

The fact that Busch is young no longer cuts it as a valid excuse. He's 26 now. He's married. He's supposedly more mature. Yet he put Hornaday in a position where the four-time Truck champ could have come away seriously injured -- or worse. It was inexcusable.

"There has to be an end to the retaliation piece of it whether it's Kyle Busch or anybody else," Harvick added Saturday after it had been announced that Busch was parked for the rest of the weekend. "This is not Late Model racing, this is professional stock-car racing. We all make mistakes and do things sometimes out of character -- but if things continue to progress, we're going to hurt somebody."

Kenny Wallace, who set the all-time record in the Nationwide Series for starts with 520 on Saturday, offered some advice for Busch going forward.

"Let me tell you a quick story," Wallace said. "I got black-flagged by NASCAR at Phoenix in 1997. And I said, 'Screw NASCAR.' And they said, 'Tell Kenny Wallace to be at the NASCAR hauler after the race.' And I said, 'Nope.'

"Well, I ended up having to write a check for $10,000. I literally wrote out the check myself from Kenny Wallace Racing, and my hands were shaking. And they came real close to not letting me run the next Nationwide race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And Mike Helton said something to me I'll never forget -- and this is something that could go right to Kyle Busch -- but he said these words: 'I do not want to be the one to ruin your career.'

"So when the NASCAR president tells you he doesn't want to be the one to ruin your career, it lets you know this is not a free enterprise. The money part of it is, but not the sport. There are rules that we have to race by."

Wallace said he and many others have learned that the hard way. He said he hopes Busch finally has learned, too.

"I compare this situation to a dog with an [electric] collar on," Wallace said. "They zap you once, they zap you twice. And they zapped the hell out of Kyle Busch. And I think he gets it now -- after 90 wins [across NASCAR's three national touring series].

"I compare this situation to a dog with an [electric] collar on. They zap you once, they zap you twice. And they zapped the hell out of Kyle Busch. And I think he gets it now."


"They will ruin Kyle's career if he doesn't straighten up. They don't care if M&M's is his sponsor. They don't care if he's in the Chase. They don't care that all of his employees have just lost their bonus money. They don't care if he took Ron Hornaday out of the championship chase. There are major, major implications for this situation."

In other words, they just want Busch to play by the rules. It's not too much to ask.

The line

Much has been made of NASCAR supposedly finally drawing the line that defines the limits of the "boys-have-at-it" era. Really? Did they have to draw it? Or did everyone else watching Friday night already know that jacking up a championship contender -- or anyone at all -- under caution was dead wrong?

The incident certainly produced some colorful banter from Hornaday and Harvick. They took the opportunity to say they wanted to smack Busch around in about 10 different ways.

"He's going to grow up or he's going to have swollen eyes," Harvick said.

Hornaday threatened to head straight for Busch's motorhome in the TMS infield after changing from his fire suit to administer some home-made, Texas-style justice.

As entertaining as all that was in the heat of the moment, that wouldn't have been the right thing to do, either. But what do you expect at a track where the main promotional theme behind this Sunday's Sprint Cup race is a "boxing match" between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart?

Busch admitted after Friday's race that he "ended up losing his cool," but quickly added he had been wrecked four weeks in a row and made it sound as if that made it OK to put Hornaday into the wall during the caution.

It wasn't. It was stupid.

And now after going on nine months of mostly good behavior on the track and at least improved behavior most of the time off it [despite getting caught speeding at 128 miles per hour on a public road last May], Busch destroyed 33-plus weeks of mainly good work in a split second of anger-induced, misguided, knee-jerk stupidity.

Busch has as much driving talent as anyone in NASCAR -- more, in fact, than most. But at the rate he's going, you have to wonder if he might already have made too many enemies to ever hold it together long enough to win a Cup championship. And as he sits out Sunday's race, he can take a long look at his current worst enemy by simply looking in the mirror.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.