Kurt Busch faces career crossroads after latest NASCAR suspension
The end is near. Kurt Busch's career is about to fade away, sentenced to a purgatory of start-and-park rides. People will walk by him in the garage, point, and say there goes the guy who had so much and blew it.
Or so you're likely to see and hear in the coming days.
If Kurt Busch thought he was being picked on by media and fans before, he'll need an isolation chamber to avoid the catcalls now. Or someplace deserted. That might be the best place for Busch to spend this weekend after NASCAR suspended him Monday until June 13 for verbally abusing a reporter after last weekend's Nationwide race at Dover.
The suspension prevents Busch, already on probation for his actions during and after last month's Southern 500, from competing in any NASCAR-sanctioned event in the next week. That includes Sunday's Sprint Cup race will at Pocono.
The bigger issue, though, is Busch's future.
This was to be the year he controlled his anger and proved he could return to a higher-profile ride next season without causing collateral damage.
Barely a third of the way through this season, some will say Busch is a lost cause.
How often do you see reclamation projects in other sports? Admittedly, they don't always work. And this case is tricky when one factors in sponsors. Certainly, a car owner will look at Busch's record -- 2004 Cup champion and Chase participant six of eight years -- see the positives and think he could be worth the risk.
Fact is Busch is talented. He's won at least one race 10 consecutive years. The only active drivers with longer streaks are Tony Stewart (14 consecutive seasons with at least one win), and Jimmie Johnson (11).
Stewart had his problems with the press early in his career but worked through those issues. While he can be gruff and outspoken, he typically doesn't take it to the extremes Busch has. Johnson, meanwhile, has been a sponsor's dream, in the mold of mentor Jeff Gordon in that he wins and rarely causes any issues off the track.
Unlike days gone by, image is as important as success on the track.
Is this fair?
Of course not. It doesn't matter, though. This is what the sport is. It's what many sports have become.
If a driver doesn't like what they have to be or how they're supposed to act, then go race at a local short track and drive for the love of the sport instead of the millions of dollars that furnish the mega-home, car collection or exotic vacations.
It's quite simple. Walk away or follow the rules.
Busch, for whatever reason, can't seem to let the anger go and is forced to apologize time after time.
After his suspension was announced, Busch issued a statement that read: "I accept NASCAR's decision. I put them in a box, they had to take action and it's my fault for putting them in this position. I apologize for the comments I made to (Sporting News reporter) Bob Pockrass."
Even if Busch doesn't like the situation -- or a question from a media member -- how hard is it to walk away? Imagine if he had walked away quietly without making an obscenity-laced remark how much easier things would be for him?
"He alone is holding his career in the palm of his hands and he's absolutely throwing it away," SPEED analyst Larry McReynolds said. "It makes me want to shake him and say, 'Kurt, please take a look at what you're doing.'"
Busch hasn't made it easy on himself with four high-profile incidents with reporters since September. He parted ways with Penske Racing after last season and has spent this season with James Finch's underfunded team.
Busch's well-chronicled history will deter some companies from sponsoring him, but it didn't keep him from a ride with his brother's Nationwide team and Monster Energy.
Thus, there is hope for Busch. Not every company is so buttoned down. Such companies, though, are not as frequent. That narrows Busch's potential sponsor field.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for him in this is it's currently a key time for sponsors to determine their plans for next season. These recent incidents will be hard to erase. What could help is that the later some companies decide their plans, Busch has time to move beyond his recent issues and show he can comply with basic decencies even when upset.
In January, Busch was asked about if he had regret with what had happened last year in regard to his incidents and how he dealt with that.
"To me, I've been up and down," Busch said. "A guy that I always looked up to, Mark Martin, he said, 'Draw a line and try to stay in the middle.' It's funny how times where I get excited and drag myself back into a hole. I've got to work my way out of this but it's going to be fun because I don't shy from challenges."
This is his biggest.
It also could be his most rewarding.
What would be better than a former champion losing his way and then finding it again and return to Victory Lane?
It's a path Busch can take.
Only if he chooses.