The obviously talented driver had an obvious problem controlling his temper and his anger, both in and out of the car. Enough so, that an amateur video of a confrontation with veteran ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch landed the driver in hot water with both NASCAR and Penske Racing.
It was not long before Penske Racing announced it had “mutually agreed” to a split with the driver, leaving Busch looking for a ride – and a second chance.
That second chance has come in the form of James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.
Busch will pilot the No. 51 Chevrolet for the 2012 season thanks to a “handshake deal” between owner and driver. Busch is looking for a second chance, and Finch is simply looking for the chance to compete.
Understanding the consequences of his actions last season, Busch is taking this reality check as an opportunity to grow both as a driver and a person.
“I’ve been up, I’ve been down,” Busch said. “A guy that I’ve always looked up to, Mark Martin, he said just draw a line and try to stay in the middle. It’s funny how times where I get excited and drag myself back in a hole. Yeah, I’ve got to work my way out of this (situation). But it’s going to be fun because I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Working with a smaller organization such as Finch’s team, Busch contends “there is only one way to go, and that’s up.”
With limited resources at their disposal, Busch understands the team may struggle throughout the year, but also has a shot at times as well, especially at tracks such as Daytona, Talladega and Bristol.
One of those opportunities may very well come in the season-opening Daytona 500. In preseason testing, Busch was among the fastest cars in the two-car draft, reaching speeds of 206 mph at times. Given the style of racing and the Hendrick horsepower under the hood, Busch has a solid shot at the win in Daytona.
Busch admitted after not hearing from Finch right away, he worried Rick Hendrick had expressed concern about Busch driving his equipment. Through a long-standing agreement, Phoenix Racing receives Hendrick Motorsports chassis, motors and information.
Yet when asked about Busch’s worries, Hendrick said he had no role in the discussion to add Busch to the Phoenix Racing roster.
“James Finch is a customer, just like Tony Stewart is, and they don’t have to ask me what they do,” he said. “Somebody had said I blackballed Kurt, and I never even talked to James, James never talked to me. So, when Kurt asked about it, I said, ‘Hey, I don’t have anything to do with that and I sure don’t have any problem with you.’
“If I was James Finch, I’d put the best driver I could put in the car. I think James Finch did, and I think they’ll run really well.”
Hendrick explained having Busch behind the wheel of his equipment would prove beneficial in the long run. Much like when Tony Stewart beat all four Hendrick cars using Hendrick equipment, Hendrick pointed out, “Kurt Busch might beat us with our own stuff.”
“It only makes you better,” Hendrick said. “If they start beating us real bad, I think I’ll hear some grumbling. I’m happy for James, and Kurt. I think Kurt has made some mistakes, and admitted it. He’s got to step back and prove himself. James has been in the sport a long time and he deserves to run good. If I was James Finch, I’d put the best shoe in (the car). There’s no substitute for talent in the seat, I don’t care what you’ve got. You’re not going to win if you don’t have someone that can drive it, and you know (Kurt) can drive it.
“I guarantee you James Finch can handle him,” he said. “It might be something for Saturday Night Live, but he will handle it. You don’t have to worry about it. It might be a show, but he’ll handle it.”
Busch will certainly be keeping busy this year, racing full-time for Finch in the Sprint Cup Series, as well as running over 20 Nationwide Series races with his brother Kyle at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
The key to a solid, quiet year for Busch, he says, is the type of people he surrounds himself with.
“That business is going to keep me busy, but you’ve got to surround yourself with good people to make it all come together,” he said. “You can’t do it on your own. That’s what we’re trying to do.”