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Friday, November 18, 2005
Contrite Busch says he's learned lesson

Associated Press

MIAMI -- Kurt Busch has a lot of regrets as he sits at home this week while his NASCAR Nextel Cup colleagues race in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Busch is missing the final two races of the season after being suspended by the Roush Racing team. He rues the fact that he's carrying extra baggage as he begins his new role as driver of Penske Racing South's No. 2 Dodge in 2006.

Most of all, though, the reigning Cup champion is sorry he became "argumentative" with an officer during a traffic stop last week in Phoenix, although he insists that alcohol played no part in his behavior.

"When I was asked by the officer if I had been drinking, I explained to them I had one drink during dinner, but I was certainly not intoxicated," Busch said in an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Charlotte, N.C., office Thursday night.

Busch was pulled over for driving 60 mph in a 45 mph zone, swerving to avoid a car and running a stop sign last Friday night on his way back to Phoenix International Raceway. He said he was returning from dinner with his fiancee.

The police report said the deputy smelled alcohol on Busch, and the driver became belligerent.

"You're only doing this because you're a Jeff Gordon fan," Busch was quoted as saying to the officer in the police report, released earlier Thursday in Phoenix.

He was eventually issued a misdemeanor citation for reckless driving.

"I admit I became a bit argumentative with the officer when he continuously insisted that I submit to a field sobriety test and a breath test, which I ultimately did," Busch said. "I later learned my [preliminary breathalyzer] test was .017. That's consistent with an individual my size having one drink. That's brought us to this point.

"I regret that my actions, including saying some disrespectful things to the officer, made the situation worse. I have apologized for this and I want to reiterate this apology to the officer and to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department."

The officer, responding to Busch's comment about Gordon, said he did not follow NASCAR and is a fan of neither Gordon nor Busch. He eventually called a supervisor to the scene.

According to the police report, Busch called the deputies "a joke," crowded an officer and asked "Do you know who I am?" at various points while he was detained.

I regret that my actions, including saying some disrespectful things to the officer, made the situation worse. I have apologized for this and I want to reiterate this apology to the officer and to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.
Kurt Busch

"I resent him making derogatory remarks about our sheriffs," said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even though an official alcohol breath machine had malfunctioned, Arpaio said there was no point to have Busch take that test because the preliminary results showed he wasn't intoxicated.

Busch, who was wrapping up his contract this year with the Roush team, previously signed to drive for the Penske team, beginning next season. On Saturday, Roush team owner Jack Roush initially said he would take no action against the driver because "it's somebody else's problem now."

But Roush suspended Busch from the final two races Sunday, after consulting with his sponsors, including Diageo, the manufacturer of Crown Royal whiskey.

Busch has had several run-ins with other drivers and NASCAR officials during his five years with the Roush team and, in announcing the suspension, team president Geoff Smith said, "It's the last straw for Roush Racing. We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."

Busch said he has not talked with either Smith or Roush since his suspension.

"Roush owns the team and has every right to handle the situations as he does, whether it's for him, the team or for the sponsors," Busch said.

"I spent five years with Roush Racing. I loved it there. I loved the guys," he added. "I wanted desperately to finish off the season in style, not only for myself as a champion, but for the team as well.

"I'm very proud of the accomplishments at Roush. The team was great for me and they gave me a wonderful opportunity. But I brought something to the table, too. That was a 100 percent commitment to excellence, both on and off the track."

Busch won 14 Cup races for Roush, including three this year. Now he moves to Roger Penske's team to replace retiring Rusty Wallace in the car sponsored by Miller Brewing Company's Miller Lite brand.

He said Penske has "stood behind me 100 percent."

"They've been terrific in every way, Roger and the whole Penske organization," Busch said. "They asked me to provide the facts and I did. Fully aware of what happened, they communicated to the Penske Racing sponsors and they gained their commitment to continue with my transition from Roush to them."

As for Miller, Busch said, "They have made it very clear that they expect me to demonstrate the behavior befitting of a champion. And, in this situation, I did not do that. The bottom line is I screwed up in how I handled it and I have learned from that."

Busch said he'll stay at his North Carolina home this weekend, rather than attend the season-ending Ford 400.

"The Bears are playing the Panthers. Those are my two favorite teams, so I'm going to watch them play some football and do what any other American would do on Sunday and take the day off," Busch said. "Then the race is in prime time and I'll catch that at end of the day. I'll be supporting my existing teammates as well as my future teammates."