Q: Greg, I am a NASCAR fan since 1959, and I can't ever remember drivers acting like the recent Kurt Busch incident. I know things are different today, but a driver with Kurt Busch's talent behind the wheel should know better than to treat Dr. Jerry Punch the way he did. What's your take on this situation compared to the good old days. Barry, Binghamton, NY.
A: Barry, things are way different today than they were in yesteryear as for sponsors, money, media exposure and social media. And, it's the latter that did Kurt Bush in thanks to a YouTube posting of his unforgivable tirade against one of the nice guys in NASCAR, Dr. Jerry Punch.
What stays constant, however, is that all drivers are different in their own right, whether driving a Ford 427 at Daytona in 1963 or a new Dodge Challenger in 2011. The cars are sure different, but human behavior comes in many different colors.
Today, there is way more pressure on drivers and teams to perform and run up front. Tied to good performance are all the better sponsors, which can run as high as $25-million per car for a full season. The sponsors utilize motor racing for several reasons, from entertaining clients through hospitality at the race to delivering product impressions to new and current consumers.
The drivers and crew chiefs nowadays become "stars," and appear regularly on sponsor television commercials, in newspaper and print ads and so on. As for Kurt Busch, he had everything a driver could possibly want, from multi-million dollar contract to winning performances on the track.
What Kurt Busch didn't have, however, was the ability to transform himself in the areas needed to keep his job. Granted, the press releases from both Busch and Roger Penske's organization mentioned a "split that was agreed on by both parties," but I'm sure every race fan can read through this type of thing. Busch was fired, and rightfully so, for not only his actions to Dr. Jerry Punch, but his countless other run-ins in his stormy past. His actions were, simply put, totally unprofessional and carried with it a high degree of disregard for other human beings.
Overall, Kurt Busch got what he deserved. Penske's organization is one for the most respected in the industry and always will be. Further, Busch is going to run out of possible car owners willing to give him a quality ride, as he's already been let go from Jack Roush's organization after winning a championship. The current rumors have him landing in the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports.
In ending, there were bad boys back in the good old days, but much of what happened either never came to light or, in the case of a driver like the wild and wooly Curtis Turner, wasn't aimed towards hurting other people. Turner was a party man with a heavy right foot, and he was known for his saying "we have another party starting in 15 minutes if you don't like this one."
So is Kurt Busch finished?
Not by a long shot. He'll receive his one more chance, and hopefully realign his troubling and hurtful ways.