Commentary

Kurt Busch learns lesson the hard way

Updated: December 5, 2011, 5:10 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Repeated bad behavior will not be tolerated.

Kurt Busch learned that lesson the hard way Monday when Penske Racing told him his services were no longer needed.

According to sources, it came after Shell Pennzoil officials told Roger Penske that Busch had to go if Penske wanted to keep their company name on the No. 22 Dodge.

[+] EnlargeKurt Busch
Jerry Markland/Getty Images2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch enters the offseason without a ride in 2012.

I doubt Penske, as classy a billionaire as you'll ever see, a man who has built his stellar reputation around making sure he and his employees projected the proper image, needed much convincing.

Officially, Busch and Penske mutually agreed to end their association. There's nothing "mutual" about it. True to his character, Penske is doing the deed with dignity and professionalism.

Busch is trying to do the same.

"Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy," Busch said in the team press release Monday. "But it's an important step for me and allows me to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person."

It is a lesson to every driver out there: Play like a grown-up or you won't get to play at all.

In an era in which big-money corporate sponsors are harder than ever to come by, and where every action or reaction is caught on some cellphone camera somewhere, acting like a petulant child is not an option.

Busch ran out of options. Too many temper tantrums, too many embarrassing incidents with the media, too many blowups on the team radio in which he constantly berated his team, his crew chief and even Penske himself.

The latest incident -- a one-finger salute in Homestead at the season finale and his profanity-filled lashing out at a reporter that became a YouTube sensation -- was a step too far.

The end result is this: One of the best drivers in NASCAR, a former Cup champion, is out of a job. This is a driver with 24 Cup victories, a man who has made the Chase in six of its seven seasons.

But his résumé and his talent couldn't save him. Sure, he'll have a ride next season somewhere. But a good ride with a quality team that can compete for the championship? Not likely.

Seriously, what are his options? Roush Fenway Racing clearly isn't one. He burned his bridges with Jack Roush six years ago, when Roush fired him before Busch moved to Penske.

Hendrick Motorsports? Rick Hendrick had his fill of the dysfunctional Busch family when he let Kyle go and hired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt isn't Kyle Busch's equal on the track. Not even close. But Earnhardt isn't a troublemaker and he is a sponsor magnet who makes money for the organization.

Is Joe Gibbs Racing an option for Kurt? You must be joking. Kyle barely survived this season at JGR. Why would Joe Gibbs bring in another Busch to double his displeasure?

Richard Childress Racing? Really? You think he would hire the brother of the man he pummeled back in the garage a few months ago?

Even if one of these team owners wanted him, no spots are available. RCR is cutting back from four to three cars. So is Roush.

Sponsors are paying less and wanting more from teams and drivers. Being talented isn't enough. Winning races isn't even enough if a driver places that company in a bad light.

If he minds his manners, Busch eventually will get another shot with a top team because team owners and sponsors want a winner. Great talent brings extra chances to succeed.

But this is a wake-up call for every driver in professional motorsports. And it should be a transformative moment for Kyle Busch, who must know now he was fortunate to escape the same fate.

Kyle kept his job -- barely -- after his on-track rage last month endangered the life of Ron Hornaday Jr. Kyle deliberately turned Hornaday's truck head-on into the wall under caution at Texas.

NASCAR took action, not allowing Busch to compete in the Cup race two days later. M&M's took its logo off the No. 18 Toyota for the final two races.

In a way, little brother's incident probably contributed to Kurt losing his job. Kurt's blow-up in Miami came when Kyle's situation still was fresh on everyone's mind.

The Busch brothers were lumped together, fairly or unfairly, and the people signing the checks to Kurt decided they couldn't accept the bad-boys brotherly image.

Whoever gets the job at Penske as Busch's replacement will not be the caliber driver Busch is. Few drivers are. But rest assured the new guy will walk the straight-and-narrow of required driver etiquette today.

It doesn't mean a driver has to be robotic with no personality. Look at Tony Stewart. He has had his out-of-control moments in the past, but Stewart has learned how to say what he wants without jeopardizing the relationship with his sponsors.

Maybe Stewart should teach a class on colorful talk with limitations.

The message is clear to every driver: Talent alone won't save you. Do things the right way or you won't do them at all.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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