What Was He Thinking?
November 16, 2005 | 7:55 A.M. EST
There's one song in particular that fits the big event this weekend at Phoenix. It's called "What Was I Thinking?"
Kurt Busch, as you've all heard by now, was arrested for reckless driving on Friday night before the Checker Auto Parts 500 at PIR, and as a result will not drive in the season finale at Homestead. He missed the PIR event too.
Back to the song, the question remains: what was he thinking?
There are many places in the world where a certain amount of jawboning with the local law is allowed, and even sort of expected. One of those places is not, as Busch found out, Maricopa County, Arizona.
The sheriff there, Joe Arpaio, is a rock-solid crime-and-punishment guy. You've seen him on 60 Minutes or other shows of that ilk as the sheriff who houses inmates in tents in the desert rather than a cozy-comfy jail somewhere and thinks that those who break the law should pay for their transgressions, not be allowed off because of greatness or notoriety, real or perceived.
Perhaps you wondered at the time why Jack Roush and his organization took the action they did in suspending Busch on the spot. Don't wonder. It was a wonderful way to cut ties on Roush's part. As a Roush Racing statement proclaimed, "we are finished with being Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."
That's the heart of this matter, right there. The only thing that might have made it more delicious from the Roush side-after all, Busch left with a year remaining on a contract he signed-was if he could have replaced Busch with Jimmy Spencer for the final two races (see below).
What Roush did, after talking with his sponsors and NASCAR, was ultimately driven by necessity. Any glee this scenario may have engendered is speculation on my part, but it's hard to imagine that there wasn't at least a smidgen of it present when the announcement was made.
Undoubtedly, Busch is a talented racing driver. He was brash and always good for a quote and he made things happen, good or bad. Who can forget him smacking his backside in the general direction of Spencer one fine day in Indianapolis? Or the fact that Spencer smacked him back-right in the nose-later that year at Michigan?
Or the memorable meltdown on pit lane at Darlington, where he cussed NASCAR on his radio and threw a water bottle at an official? How about the walk from the cockpit to Scott Riggs' pit box at New Hampshire in the first race of the Chase, Part Deux?
While he is good at driving race cars and winning races, he's not so good when emotion clouds the issue and there's some form of restraint necessary to keep a merely embarrassing moment from turning into a bloody farce.
Arrogance is a human trait shared by many people, not just Kurt Busch. Shoot, all of us, at one time or another, have been arrogant in some form or fashion. It's part of the deal. However, most of us know that arrogance can lead to Bad Things Happening, and that is exactly the situation here.
When you're pulled over for nearly crashing and blowing a stop sign, it's not a good time to pull out your competitor's license and ask if the officers know who you are, as it has been reported Busch did on the night in question.
It's an even worse time to let your mouth run without the normal filters attached, as also has been reported.
It is positively, mind-bogglingly evident that you do not do these things if you've had an alcoholic beverage anytime within the past 72 hours. I'm not saying he did, because I don't know that for a fact. It has been reported that one of the deputies thought he had, and that he was given field sobriety tests on the scene.
When your sponsors include one of the largest manufacturers of spirits in the world (Diageo) and next year's ride is sponsored by one of the world's largest breweries, you might want to back that up to a week.
Though Roger Penske and Miller Brewing Co. are standing behind Busch in this matter, what could have happened to Busch had he actually been charged with DUI is frightening.
In a moment, all he had worked for to this point could have disappeared down the proverbial drain, and he could have been out in the cold. He already lost the chance to race out his tenure with Roush Racing; he could have lost the chance to continue on in his new ride with Penske.
There's an adage among those who work for a living: never do something stupid while wearing corporate apparel. Apparently, Busch missed that one, or perhaps he just let his emotions get the best of him. Who knows?
What I do know is that Kurt Busch's career could have ended last Friday night, for all intents and purposes, and it is my fervent hope that he knows it too.
What was he thinking?