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For a moment on Friday, albeit a brief one, Kyle Busch appeared to get choked up.
After a week in which Busch was punished with the modern-day equivalent of being tarred and feathered following his intentional wreck of Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Texas trucks race, one person may have saved him from the lowest point of his career.
That man was team owner Joe Gibbs.
"Was there a point in which I thought, 'Do I have a ride?' Of course there was. Yeah, I thought that," Busch said Friday in front of a room packed full of reporters at Phoenix International Raceway. "Was there a point in which Joe ever told me, 'Hey, we're looking at terminating this?' No."
It was then that Busch's voice began to waver slightly, the emotion tangible in his words.
"Joe has been there and has stuck by my side and has held my arm through this whole deal," Busch said. "I can't say enough about the man sitting next to me."
Busch has plenty of reason to feel grateful to Gibbs, the legendary NFL coach who became a championship-winning NASCAR team owner.
When it appeared Busch's future with Joe Gibbs Racing – and thus his career with a top-tier race team – was in jeopardy this week, it turned out Gibbs was fighting for the driver behind the scenes all along.
Gibbs, a devout Christian who has written a book about winning at the game of life, decided to practice what he preached. He forgave Busch and tried to help the driver through the storm, working to ensure he would have another chance.
"When you're put in a situation like this, you can really make one of two decisions," Gibbs said. "I think the one (firing Busch) would have been devastating and I think really discouraging for everybody associated with Kyle. ... What I've chosen to do, I want to support Kyle and I feel like this could have a positive impact on Kyle.
"I'm committed to him as a person. I like him; we've gone through a lot together."
M&M's, the candy brand owned by the Mars family, wasn't as forgiving of Busch's latest transgression. The company places an utmost priority on its family-friendly image, and it wanted to send a message to Busch that turning another competitor head-first into the wall out of anger was unacceptable.
We don't know yet whether or not M&M's initially wanted to bail on Busch altogether (M&M's will be back on Busch's car in 2012). But we do know the Mars family didn't want to end its relationship with Gibbs himself.
So throughout the week and all the way until late Thursday night, Gibbs and M&M's worked to figure out a solution that was acceptable to both parties.
They concluded M&M's would come off the car for the final two races of the season, replaced by longtime Gibbs supporter Interstate Batteries.
Since there's a very small chance Interstate is paying the same amount as M&M's would have, it's likely Busch is taking a hit in his wallet over the next two weeks as well.
Gibbs declined comment when asked the details of the financial agreement, but said Busch would incur "other financial penalties and stuff that we're working through."
Busch, though, is likely thankful just to still have a job. If Gibbs had decided to fire him, Busch's links to nearly all the upper-echelon NASCAR teams would have been broken.
His odds of finding a competitive ride for next season would have been slim.
And as Busch sat back and had time to reflect this week, he undoubtedly realized Gibbs was his strongest and most loyal supporter outside of his family.
If Busch ever redeems himself in the eyes of NASCAR fans, it will be years from now. He has a long way to go.
But as long as Gibbs stands by him, he at least has a chance.
"There's an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow and learn from this," Busch said. "I'm looking forward to those days."
Denny Hamlin said he sees no point in lecturing his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate or dispensing advice about Busch's actions over the past week because Busch has already been through so much.
"Just let him race and let him do what he came out here to do and be easier on him," Hamlin said of his mindset. "He doesn't need to hear from me what he did wrong and what he did right."
Hamlin said he turns to team owner Joe Gibbs when there's an issue, and expects Busch would do the same instead of coming to a teammate for advice.
"There's nothing I'm going to tell him that he can't learn from Joe Gibbs," Hamlin said.
Busch, Hamlin said, is "still a young guy, still figuring things out." Drivers sometimes have wake-up calls that "put them in their place," he added.
But whether Busch will change as a person or needs to see a sports psychologist – as Hamlin did after losing the championship last year – were subjects Hamlin wanted to avoid.
"I'm not Kyle's best friend, so I don't know him that well," Hamlin said. "I know him as a teammate and we've worked together professionally and we talk. But when we talk, it's about race cars and what we can do to make our race cars better.
"It's not much about personal life and things like that. So that's a totally different subject and I just don't feel totally comfortable answering things about that side."
Kyle Busch has lost sponsor M&M's for the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of this season due to his actions at Texas, but will still race at Phoenix and Homestead thanks to sponsorship from Interstate Batteries.
M&M's isn't breaking up with Busch for good, though. The company will return to sponsor Busch next season after sending what it believes is a strong message to Busch not to screw up again.
In a statement released shortly after 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday night, Mars (which owns M&M's) said Busch's relationship with the company is dependent on no future incidents taking place.
Busch came under fire after intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. during last week's Camping World Truck Series race and was parked for the weekend by NASCAR, then later fined.
Mars, though, felt that wasn't enough.
"Kyle's recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars," a company official said in a statement. "While we do not condone Kyle's recent actions, we do believe that he has shown remorse and has expressed a desire to change. We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win."
Team owner Joe Gibbs said the team "strongly supports Mars' decision."
"This gives us all time to work together to foster a positive change where Kyle can continue racing in a way we can all be proud of," he said.
Busch will address the NASCAR media as the first scheduled driver availability session on Friday morning.
With sunset approaching in Phoenix, the decision over Kyle Busch's fate for this weekend – and beyond – has yet to be officially made public.
But two sources confirmed to SB Nation that Busch would drive Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 car after all this weekend – except with sponsorship from Interstate Batteries instead of M&M's.
The Interstate Batteries sponsorship was first reported by ESPN's Marty Smith on Thursday afternoon.
Joe Gibbs Racing and its sponsors had wrestled with what to do about Busch for much of the week and continued to do so throughout the day on Thursday. As the deadline approaches – that being Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway – the team has yet to officially announce what will happen to Busch.
Mars Inc., which owns M&M's, is said to have had enough of Busch's shenanigans, with his suspension from last week's intentional crash of Ron Hornaday in the Texas trucks race as the final straw.
A source told SB Nation that Nationwide Series driver Aric Almirola was contacted Wednesday and put on standby to drive the No. 18 Sprint Cup Series car this weekend – a fact Almirola confirmed to ESPN.com on Thursday. But Almirola told the website he had yet to hear from Joe Gibbs Racing on whether or not he would race.
Late Thursday afternoon, it turned out he wouldn't.
Interstate Batteries owner Norm Miller has a close relationship with both team owner Joe Gibbs and Busch, and apparently a deal was struck to let M&M's out of the final two races and put Interstate on the car instead.
A representative for Busch had no comment on the Interstate Batteries report. Joe Gibbs Racing did not respond to a request for comment.
The Associated Press reported earlier Thursday that another of Busch's sponsors, Z-Line Designs, asked JGR to replace Busch with Denny Hamlin in the Homestead Nationwide Series race next week. Busch was not scheduled to drive the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix.
On Tuesday, when NASCAR issued a $50,000 fine and put Busch on probation for the remainder of the season, it seemed the controversial driver would be cleared to race at Phoenix and Homestead.
But that apparently wasn't enough for M&M's, which had previously released a statement expressing its displeasure with Busch's actions.
Even if Busch races this weekend, plenty of unanswered questions remain.
Is this the end of Busch's relationship with Mars, or is the sponsor just trying to send a message? Will Mars use Busch's suspension to get out of its deal with JGR altogether and leave the team? And will Busch even keep his job at JGR next season?
The most immediate question for now, though, is: When will Joe Gibbs Racing confirm Busch is racing at Phoenix this weekend?
Michael McDowell had a tremendous opportunity on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway: Driving Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 car while the suspended Kyle Busch sat atop the team's pit box and watched.
Unfortunately for McDowell, the driver change meant the No. 18 would have to start at the rear of the field. And with a long, green-flag run to open the race, McDowell and his temporary team never got much of a chance to work on the car.
"It's a great opportunity to be in great equipment and (I) had some fun today," McDowell said. "Obviously, not at all the result we were looking for. Just long green-flag runs. Didn't get a long time to work on it.
"Just none of it really played out all that well for us today, but still thankful for the opportunity. It's great to be in great equipment and hopefully we get an opportunity to do it again."
McDowell said he knew he had big shoes to fill ("There's not a lot of people in our sport that have won 100 races," he said) and thus fell short of the team's expectations.
But overall, he enjoyed the experience and said he "gave it all I had."
"We were hoping for more, but for me, it was just great," he said. "I was planning on doing 20 laps this weekend, so I think I did 310 more than I was planning on and (it was a) great opportunity to work with a great team and just see how they do things a little bit different."
Busch, the No. 18 car's regular driver, watched from atop the pit box after apologizing to his team in a Sunday morning meeting.
"He looked them in the eye, straight-up, man to man, (and said), 'This is where I stand, this is what I did, this is how I feel,'" crew chief Dave Rogers said of the meeting. "He didn't sugarcoat anything, didn't make excuses for anything, but he leveled with the team.
"That honesty is a strength of this race team. We are honest with each other whether things are going good or bad. He did that today and that made the guys feel good because it's like, 'OK, that's our teammate; he's not sugarcoating things."
Busch remains under fire due to his actions in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race, in which he blatantly wrecked title contender Ron Hornaday.
Sponsor M&M's released a statement on its Facebook page Sunday morning that read:
"The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of M&M's and we're very disappointed. Like you, we hold those who represent our brand to a higher standard and we have expressed our concerns directly to Joe Gibbs Racing."
It's unclear whether Busch will be back in the No. 18 car next week, though NASCAR did not give indication he was parked for any races beyond Texas.
The following is a letter written by Kyle Busch to his fans, sponsors, teammates, competitors and fellow members of the racing community.
Busch was suspended from NASCAR competition on Saturday morning for his actions in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
I've had a lot of time today to sit and reflect, and try to put my thoughts into words as best I can.
I want to sincerely apologize for my actions during Friday night's Truck Series race at Texas.
I apologize to my fans, all my sponsors, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports.
After talking with my team, it's great to have their support and encouragement to assure me that there are better days ahead. Even though this took place while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, I am sorry for how difficult this has been for everyone associated with Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series teams.
I'd also like to apologize to Ron Hornaday Jr., and everyone associated with the No. 33 team in the Truck Series.
I understand why I was taken out of the car for the rest of the weekend. NASCAR officials had to act, and I accept their punishment and take full responsibility for my actions.
As a racecar driver, the hardest thing to do is to sit on the sidelines listening to cars on the track when you know you should be out there competing. For this, I have no one to blame but myself.
Through a lot of support from the people around me, I feel like I've made a lot of strides this year, but this was certainly a step backward. Moving forward, I will do everything I possibly can to represent everyone involved in a positive manner. However, I know my long-term actions will have more of a bearing than anything I say right now.
Following NASCAR's decision to suspend Kyle Busch for the remainder of the weekend's events at Texas Motor Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing team owner Joe Gibbs met with the media to address the situation.
"We met this morning with NASCAR and they explained their situaton and decision, and after that sometimes in life you have to deal with real tough things," he said. "This was a tough situation for us."
Gibbs said his organization is trying to go through the process of meeting with all parties involved in Friday night's incident and "handle everything in the right way."
Despite the fact Busch was not driving a JGR truck in Friday night's event, Gibbs still took "full responsibility" for his driver's actions.
"I met with Kyle in his motorhome this morning, I think it was one of those personal conversations you have when a real tough situation like this comes up," he said.
With sponsors, primarily M&Ms, expressing frustrations over previous incidents with Busch, Gibbs said he hasn't even had a chance to go through meeting with the team's partners to discuss the weekend's events – but plans on doing so throughout the weekend.
Gibbs commended NASCAR's decision and handling of the situation, saying he "always trusts NASCAR."
"They always do a great job to manage the sport and it has grown because of them and the way they handle it," he said. "I have great faith in the decisions they make. We've been a part of this for a long time and love it, love being a part of it and love the sport. I think this sport is where it is because of NASCAR and the way they handle things."
"This was a tough one for us," he added. "Sometimes life gives you tough things and you don't like it, but we're certainly going to try and work our way through this one and do the right thing and handle it the right way."
Gibbs also confirmed Denny Hamlin would drive the No. 18 Toyota in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, with Michael McDowell taking Busch's place in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
NASCAR President Mike Helton addressed the media on Saturday morning at Texas Motor Speedway an informed reporters of Kyle Busch's suspension for the remainder of the weekend.
Here are some of Helton's selected comments as to why NASCAR elected to suspend Busch:
Why did this incident cross the line in the "Boys, Have At It" Era?
"The responsibility that, over the past two or three seasons, we've given back to the drivers, came with a very clear understanding that there could be a line that got crossed.
As annoying as the comments I've made personally in the past – about 'We'll know it when we see it' – might have been, we saw it last night. Obviously, after the event, a lot of folks put their heads together to decide what, if anything, we would do. What I'm telling you today is our reaction."
Did NASCAR consider all the fallout and the big picture that would result from this move?
"The volume of reactions like I'm talking about this morning, the rarity of times we make a step like this speak to the uniqueness and the severity of the topic. We understand the ramifications or the ripple effect in making this type of move. But we also take our responsibility very serious as to maintaining control of the event in all of the garages. And at the end of the day, we're the ones who have to make that decision and go on."
Does this send a message about where the line is for "Boys, Have At It?"
"I think the garage areas – the drivers, the team owners, the crew members – understand the difference between being responsible and crossing the line. I honestly believe they understand the difference, but we'll have to wait and see how the opinions react to this."
On whether Hornaday's position in the championship battle was a factor in the penalty:
"The implication of the 33 truck being in the points battle in the Camping World Truck Series probably had a small impact on the reaction, but I think the bulk of the action in its entirety and all the circumstances attached to it just accumulated in the action we made."
How is this different than Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski at Atlanta last year? And did Kyle's history factor into this?
"It's natural in our industry and our sport to watch the evolution of a policy or a procedure and learn from it and possibly react differently. I would remind you in the incident with Carl Edwards and Keselowski in Atlanta, there was a reaction from us. There was points and there was money involved in that reaction, so there was some reaction. There are lines that have been crossed – the 18 and the 29 (Kevin Harvick) at Darlington got a reaction from us.
"Today is the most severe reaction, but we felt like the circumstances came together to warrant the reaction we're talking about this morning. The question about the accumulation of incidents around the driver leading to the decision making process – I won't sit here and tell you it's not an influence, but it's not an overriding influence."
More on the decision:
"It's not an easy step to take. It's not something we enjoy doing. It's not an action we would want to do. But we do take our responsibility to maintain the garage areas and the unfolding of the events very serious, which led us to this action."
Becomes first driver to be suspended for on-track incident toward another competitor since 2002.
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