My Brain on NASCAR: Time for Kurt Busch to take a chill pill

When discussing the manner in which an athlete responds to the media, how far do you have to go in order to go too far?

This has been a hot topic for quite some time now, thanks to Kurt Busch. Never known for his reticence, devotees of driver-to-crew-chief radio communications spent all of last season and most of this one listening to the vocal stylings of the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

Kurt has regularly berated his crew, his fellow drivers and pretty much anyone else who irritated him. His method of doing so is by using language that, where I come from, would have gotten you popped upside the head by your mama who, in case you didn’t know, brought you into this world and can most certainly take you out of it.

The nastiness cake got its icing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Nov. 2011. After transmission problems forced Busch to make an early exit from the race, he was asked to wait around until ESPN was ready for an on-air interview. Frustration and disappointment combined to create a Scud missile of rage, which was launched directly at ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch, scoring a direct hit in the form of the now infamous profanity-laced tirade.

Busch messed with the wrong Marine. While fans might not know or even care much about the beat writers who diligently toil week to week on the NASCAR circuit, they feel a real connection with certain television personalities, and Dr. Punch is one of the most well-respected and best-liked of the bunch.

As a result of what we’ll go ahead and call a hissy fit, Kurt lost his job with Penske Racing and he probably lost a number of fans, as well. He publicly expressed his remorse, acknowledged that he had a problem, and vowed to change.

Change did come, in the form of a new job with underfunded Phoenix Racing, and seemingly in a (slightly) chastened Busch, but it didn’t last long. At Darlington Raceway in May, some reckless driving on pit road and a post-race fracas with members of Ryan Newman’s team earned Busch a $50,000 fine and NASCAR’s “double secret probation,” which most anyone would laugh and tell you doesn’t really amount to much.

Except this time, it did. At Dover International Speedway on June 2, when asked a fairly benign question regarding whether his probation refrained him from doing certain things on the track by Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News (see beat writers who diligently toil week to week on the NASCAR circuit, above), Busch blew his internal transmission.

“It refrains me from not beating the (expletive) out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions,” he said. “But since I’m on probation, I suppose that’s improper to say as well.”

OK, here’s where you need to get comfortable and prepare to call me names, because I’m going to defend Kurt Busch just a little bit.

We all have our individual ways of expressing anger, although none of them are particularly pretty. Some people lash out physically – I have yet to meet a man who hasn’t punched a wall at one time or another – while others internalize their feelings and foment stomach ulcers. Some people holler, while others prefer to employ the dreaded silent treatment.

While part of NASCAR’s appeal is its accessibility factor, the work environment is a pressure cooker. The drivers don’t have a locker room to retreat to after the race, to take a shower, cool down and don a natty suit before addressing the press. The instant something happens, cameras and microphones are right there in their faces, taking the term “heat of the moment” to an entirely new level, and NASCAR really bears down on its drivers when it comes to media availability. Yes, they are cosseted athletes who marry supermodels and make millions of dollars blah blah blah, but still, it is an incredibly stressful position to be in.

What would you do? Would you remain calm, courteous and politically correct? I know I probably wouldn’t.

The ongoing antics and travails of Kurt Busch – one of the most purely talented race car drivers on the track and a really nice guy when you’re just having a normal conversation with him – have been a major part of the racing storyline for months, and even years.

Let’s just go ahead and be honest and admit that we all find it wildly entertaining when a driver blows a gasket and shoots his mouth off. If Kurt could deep-six the profanity, the blame-passing and the physical threats, we would not be having this conversation right now.

So I’m officially asking his mama to intervene. A big bar of soap – maybe they could contact Proctor & Gamble and land the Ivory logo on Phoenix Racing’s unsponsored car — and a little upside-the-head action may be just what the doctor ordered. Cleaning up his mouth could go a long way toward helping Kurt Busch clean up his act.

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