|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New England Patriots took a chance on Randy Moss after his attitude became an issue, first with Minnesota and then with Oakland. The Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on Michael Vick after he was released from prison for running a dogfighting ring.
The Denver Nuggets took a chance on Allen Iverson despite the All-Star guard's clashes with then-Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown over missing team practices and other issues.
Some owners seem to be willing to sell their souls for stars, even ones with baggage.
And so it likely shall be with 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch.
Sources have said Busch already has drawn interest from at least three mid- to upper-echelon teams since the driver was released from Penske Racing two weeks ago.
|Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch parted ways with Penske Racing after a tumultuous 2011.|
One of those teams is Richard Petty Motorsports, for the famed No. 43 ride that Hall of Fame co-owner Richard Petty drove to 200 wins and seven titles. A second meeting with RPM was scheduled for this week, according to sources close to the situation.
Busch's representation, John Caponigro, said "the level of interest in Kurt has been significant, and we have had discussions with a number of teams over the past week."
NASCAR owners are no different than NFL, NBA or MLB owners. When a talented individual is on the market, they sometimes are willing to look past an issue or problem, believing they'll be able to fix it.
Busch is very talented -- enough so that the vile, profanity-laced tirades he directed at his team and the media, and the disrespect he showed to owner Roger Penske and others, likely will earn him a ride better than he deserves.
"More than once, my personal talent helped bail me out of unhappy situations," former driver Bobby Allison said.
Allison ticked off more than his fair share of owners, albeit not with the disrespect Busch has shown. Allison drove for 14 different organizations and in nine different brands of cars during his Hall of Fame career that saw him win 84 races.
But he never wanted for a job.
Busch won't, either.
"It's partly a reflection of sports in general," Allison said. "Talented guys have an easier chance to get a second deal, or a third deal, or a fourth deal. All sports are pretty much that way."
Moving from team to team is a little easier in sports other than NASCAR because sponsors aren't so heavily involved. But even sponsors want to win, so they are willing to take a chance on a driver with Busch's ability just as the owner is.
That's why Busch and RPM have talked. Sources have said sponsor Best Buy is rethinking its alliance with AJ Allmendinger, perhaps wanting a driver who will give it more bang for its buck.
"Best Buy has been a great partner for a long time, and AJ Allmendinger has done a fantastic job for us,'' RPM's Robbie Loomis told Dave Moody on Sirius XM NASCAR radio earlier this week, when Loomis confirmed there have been discussions with Busch. "He's coming off his best season yet, but I can tell you there is a lot of interest on our part in having Kurt Busch in the fold.
"It makes sense to have Kurt with our team, if we can make it work.''
Since then, RPM officials have declined to comment. But for good or bad, there's no denying that Busch offers bang.
"He just does not respect the industry, the sport, the other competitors, himself, his own people as much as he should," Allison said.
That Busch would be considered for the 43 car seems wrong on so many fronts. Petty epitomized respect, from what he did in the car to what he did outside of it. Nobody in the sport has signed more autographs or posed for more pictures than "The King."
He didn't walk away from interviews. He didn't curse or disrespect the media. He didn't refer to authority figures as "dude."
If Busch isn't the most disrespected person in the garage, he's near the top of the list.
Talented guys have an easier chance to get a second deal, or a third deal, or a fourth deal. All sports are pretty much that way.” -- Bobby Allison
But when you think of the most recent history of the Petty organization, Busch in the 43 makes sense. They both are about survival.
Since moving Petty Enterprises out of the Level Cross, N.C., shop to the Robert Yates Racing facility in Mooresville in 2007, Petty has done anything and everything to survive. He sold interest in the team to Boston Ventures. He merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and owner George Gillett, whose legal and financial troubles are well-documented, and changed the name to Richard Petty Motorsports.
He merged with Yates Racing, swapped from Dodge to Ford and moved into a building on the Roush Fenway Racing campus. He was on the brink of shutting the doors late last season before partnering with Medallion Financial Corp.
"I've been surviving since I got here," Petty told me a year ago. "Even at Petty Enterprises, it always looked good on the outside. When you're in the middle, it's a day-to-day deal just to keep any business going. We were just doing it with different people and different times and different circumstances."
So if Petty is struggling to secure Best Buy, Busch could help him do that if the sponsor hasn't already decided to move on. There has been speculation that Best Buy could move over to Roush Fenway Racing, where the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth is unsponsored, or to another team.
Busch could have other options, as well, although some might be a year away from viability. Say Joey Logano struggles once again in the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing. Would Joe Gibbs be brave enough to put up with both Busch brothers?
Or if Logano succeeds, would Gibbs be willing to put Busch in that fourth team he's been talking about for several years?
Michael Waltrip Racing has made major upgrades in the past few months. Perhaps there would be room for a championship-quality driver there by 2013.
A few other quality rides also might come open after this season.
But Busch and Petty could be good for each other now. Busch would be in quality equipment provided by Roush Fenway Racing, where he won the 2004 title before being parked with two races left in the 2005 season after he already had agreed to move to Penske. He also could benefit from Petty's experience in dealing with people, although since Busch didn't learn from gentlemen such as Penske or Jack Roush, you have to wonder if anybody can help.
RPM could benefit from getting a talent it couldn't afford or attract under normal circumstances, a driver who can attract a top sponsor.
It could be one of those perfect storms like the one that matched Tony Stewart and Haas CNC Racing three years ago. Stewart's talent transformed a below-average organization into the 2011 champion.
Busch is talented enough to do that. Outside of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Stewart, few if any can top Busch's résumé the past 11 Cup seasons (24 wins and a title).
"Richard could help him," Allison said. "Richard has been around enough that he can say, 'Kurt, now isn't the time to address problems.' It could be the very right deal for him.
"Maybe he would say, 'OK, I've got to match the respect that has always gone with this car, this number and this team and its original driver.'"
It seems wrong on many fronts, but we've seen it before with other athletes in other sports.
Where there's talent, there's usually an owner ready to gamble on it.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.