Kurt Busch at odds with Newman
CONCORD, N.C. -- Kurt Busch doesn't have any issues with NASCAR or the penalties it meted out from last week's incidents at Darlington Raceway, but the driver's relationship with former teammate Ryan Newman needs some work.
NASCAR fined Busch $50,000 and placed him on probation through July 25 for reckless driving on pit road during the race and for bumping Newman's car on pit road after the race.
Newman and I were friends. He needs to check his trophy case on that (2008) Daytona 500 trophy that I helped him get years ago. There was no need for his comments afterward.” -- Kurt Busch
Busch said Friday that the post-race bump was an accident and that there was no intent to drive reckless when he sped through Newman's pit box, saying he simply was trying to beat the pace car to the end of pit road and not lose a lap.
But Busch said comments by his former Penske Racing teammate -- Newman said Busch's "chemical imbalance speaks for itself," and that the explanation for hitting him on pit road because everyone checked up while he was taking off his helmet was a lie -- were out of line.
"Newman and I were friends," Busch said prior to practice for Saturday's All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We were great teammates and he needs to check his trophy case on that (2008) Daytona 500 trophy that I helped him get years ago. There was no need for his comments afterwards.
"He knew his Southern 500 didn't go the way he wanted to. At the end of the night everybody is hot, pissed off. The Daytona 500 is a big race. Darlington is just as big of an event. I wanted to finish in the top 10 and we didn't get that top-10 finish. It was a tough night that all went bad in a hurry. I apologize to NASCAR for them having to make a decision on penalizing me."
But Busch did not apologize to Newman, whom he pushed to victory on the last lap of the 2008 Daytona 500 to give Penske Racing a 1-2 finish and help Newman break an 81-race losing streak.
"He was agitated just like I was after a good day had gone bad," Busch said. "He was just in the emotion of it. With him making the comments he did, he was a little out of line as well for the heat of the moment."
Asked if he and Newman would remain friends, Busch said, "We're both looking at the same scenario coming up in the next few summer months."
Busch was referring to both drivers looking for a top ride for 2013. Newman is in the final year of his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing, although team owner Tony Stewart said earlier in the week he wanted to keep Newman if sponsorship can be found.
Busch, who reached a "mutual split" with Penske Racing after a tumultuous end to 2011, also is looking for a top ride after this season with under-funded Phoenix Racing.
Much depends on Busch convincing team owners and sponsors he deserves another chance. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion was fined $50,000 for making an obscene hand gesture caught by an in-car camera and delivering a profanity-laced tirade toward ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch after the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The incident led to him seeking professional help for anger management.
Busch said he's become a target for anything he does.
"Is my strike zone bigger than others?" he asked. "Yeah. It might be bigger than others, but I don't have a problem with it."
Busch said nothing he did at Darlington after spinning out with six laps remaining -- an incident that led Newman to spin out -- was done with malicious intent.
Busch said he was surprised that Newman's gasman, Andrew Rueger, went after him on pit road after the race in protest of Busch's aggressive move through Newman's pit box.
NASCAR fined Rueger $5,000 and placed him on probation until June 27.
"That guy was just as excited as anybody else," said Busch, who is 25th in points. "That's the passion that all of us have in this sport. Did I mean to drive through their pit box? Heck, there could have been 42 other guys pitted next to us. It just happened to be the guy that spun around in our same incident.
"It wasn't anything I tried to do. I was just trying to beat the pace car out."
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said Busch wasn't within three feet of Newman's crew when he left pit road, but added the car "was sideways" and Busch ran over an air hose.
He said there was no video of Busch hitting Newman's car on pit road after the race, but there were witnesses who helped NASCAR make a decision on the fine.
Busch said he'll pay the $50,000 out of his own pocket just as he always has. In the end, he believes the passion he showed is what fans want more of, comparing the sport to World Wrestling Entertainment.
"I heard them cheer louder than when Jimmie Johnson pulled into Victory Lane for when the crew guy came over and got agitated and knocked an official on top of our hood," Busch said. "That's when the crowd reacted the most.
"So you tell me if they're wanting WWE. This is fun. This is entertainment, right guys? This is why you're all here suffocating me behind this hauler."