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Leave it to Brad Keselowski to offer perhaps the most even-handed assessment of the Kurt Busch situation thus far.
Keselowski, who has been reluctant to comment much on his former Penske Racing teammate's trials, said Wednesday he sympathizes with both sides in the Busch vs. media debate.
While he said Busch's threat to reporter Bob Pockrass was "certainly not the way I would have handled it," Keselowski also viewed the situation through Busch's eyes.
"As a sport, we rely on the media to be the voice of the fans, and in that case, I think there was certainly some fan interest ...that justifies some of the line of questioning he was subject to," Keselowski said. "I can understand, also, the emotion and the fire it takes as a competitor to be a winner and how that could make you see it a bit differently when you've been caught in situations where you have to deal with the drama, rather than focusing on what you need to be the best race car driver possible and to go out and win races."
Keselowski said drivers can get frustrated "by those styles of questions, because you know at the end of the day, they are directly affecting your ability to be competitive."
"As a race car driver, that can be unacceptable in your mind at times," he said.
Despite Busch's latest trouble, Keselowski said there would always be a spot in NASCAR for a driver with so much talent. Out of the drivers Keselowski has teamed with in the Sprint Cup Series – including Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon – Keselowski said there's been no one better than Busch.
"I've raced around him, I've tested with him, practiced with him, I've talked to him extensively; he is the most talented driver that I've worked with in Sprint Cup, and that will remain until somebody else proves differently," Keselowski said. "... I feel like it says a lot that I feel that he is the most talented one I've worked with, and that talent will carry him through some of those trying times, and I think he will find another opportunity down the road."
Keselowski acknowledged, though, that Busch's "black marks" make it more difficult to find a ride given a sponsorship climate that can favor marketability over competition.
"That does not favor a guy like Kurt, and that's a bit unfortunate to me," Keselowski said. "I think that's bad for the sport. But it is what it is and it's certainly going to affect his future (going) forward. I think he would tell you that himself, but I also wish him the best."
Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch said driver Kurt Busch agreed to respect NASCAR fans and the media during a Tuesday meeting that resulted in Busch retaining his job.
Finch told Sirius/XM's NASCAR channel Tuesday night that it's time for Busch to produce results without continually having off-the-track distractions.
"He's got some issues he says he's going to get squared away, and I'm hoping he does that," Finch told The Late Shift program. "And if he doesn't, then I've got to move on. But right now, we're going forward with him straightening out and doing what he needs to do."
Busch is coming off a NASCAR-issued suspension for violating probation by verbally abusing a reporter after the Nationwide Series race at Dover. He missed the Pocono race weekend but will race this weekend at Michigan.
The wealthy team owner said he couldn't understand why Busch seemed so unhappy at times, because the driver should be "tickled to death" that he gets to race for a living.
"You race on the weekend, you make good money and you look back in the back of the shop, and a guy works all year for what you make in a weekend – but he seems to be happy," Finch said he told Busch. "So I don't know why you're not happy, and if you're not happy, then you need to get happy. Because that's life."
Any doubts Kurt Busch wouldn't have a ride after returning from his one-week suspension from NASCAR were erased Tuesday afternoon when Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch announced Busch will be returning to the No. 51 car this weekend at Michigan.
"We have met with Kurt," Finch said in a statement released by the team. "At the end of the day, we are racers, so we're going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet."
There was uncertainty whether Busch, who was suspended one week by NASCAR for violating his probation by threatening a member of the media following the Nationwide Series race at Dover, would be welcomed back by his team. In numerous interviews last week, Finch made it known he was tired of Busch's attitude and that the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion would have to make changes if he were to return to the team following his hiatus.
However, after a meeting Tuesday between owner and driver, an understanding was reached that will keep Busch behind the wheel of the unsponsored No. 51 Chevrolet going forward.
"We know adjustments have to be made, but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself," Finch said. "We're going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor – and we're going to do that together."
Busch, who has one top-10 finish this season in 13 starts, was replaced last Sunday in Pocono by David Reutimann, who finished 21st.
SportingNews.com reporter Bob Pockrass, the target of Kurt Busch's comments which drew a suspension from the NASCAR Pocono race this weekend, had an influential driver spring to his defense on Friday.
When asked about Busch's suspension, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon first gave a short answer about how officials were perhaps trying to send a "wake-up call" to Busch. But then he suddenly veered from the question and addressed Pockrass' role in the matter, unprompted.
"The one thing I will say is I really support Bob Pockrass in this situation," Gordon said. "I don't think Bob asked anything out of line. I don't think he provoked anything. He was just kind of following up on some things Kurt was leading to.
"I think Bob is one of the premier writers and investigative reporters in the garage area. Nobody works harder than this guy."
That's much different than what Tony Stewart said about Pockrass on Wednesday, when the defending champion labeled Pockrass as "the biggest mixer in the whole media center" and a "tabloid journalist."
Gordon disagreed with Stewart's comments and said the media's role is "to create entertainment for people to watch and read."
"We as competitors have to understand that side of it," Gordon said. "If you don't like a question, don't answer it. It doesn't mean you have to go to the level that Kurt went to in how he responded to it."
You know the threatening comments Kurt Busch made to SportingNews.com reporter Bob Pockrass? While NASCAR deemed them worthy of a suspension, defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart said Tuesday night they were right on the money.
"Honestly, Kurt is right: Bob Pockrass is probably the biggest mixer in the whole media center," Stewart said during the Tony Stewart Live show on Sirius/XM. "Every time he interviews somebody, it is strictly controversial."
Stewart went on to say he "liked (Busch's) answer" about wanting to beat up Pockrass.
"I kind of thought it was good when it pertains to Bob Pockrass," Stewart said with a chuckle. "There are so many good things to write about in our sport, and there are a couple reporters out there who want to be tabloid journalists and unfortunately, he's one of them."
Obviously, I disagree with Stewart. This topic is like the argument about good racing: What is often considered "good" for the drivers is not considered "good" for the fans (take Bristol or restrictor-plate racing, for example).
Similarly, many drivers seem to expect media to be part of the family and focus on writing positive stories. They don't understand that a journalist is supposed to write about what is happening in the sport, whether it's good or not.
Pockrass takes his job very seriously and covers everything from big issues to small ones. But he is also not afraid to ask the tough questions that often need to be asked.
Stewart, though, sees it differently.
"Bob is one of those guys, he's kind of like a big bass, so to speak," Stewart said. "He'll lay behind the rock or lay behind the log until something comes by, and then he's just going to grab at it. He's got the talent to be a better journalist than what he is. And he's not a bad journalist, my concern is the topic and the way he goes about it every week.
"It's a positive sport. It's a great sport that we have."
I believe comments like these do a disservice to the NASCAR media as a whole, because fans and others in the sport look at reporters and get the impression we're all out to bury those we cover. I really do not believe that's the case.
In fact, based on what I've seen while covering other sports, I don't think the NASCAR media is one of the more cutthroat groups of reporters out there. While NASCAR and the drivers do have to deal with difficult questions at times, it's nothing like the questions pro athletes in some other major sports get.
For example: Imagine if the current group of NASCAR media was replaced by a bunch of New York Jets beat writers. Then the drivers would really be unhappy and would be begging for the old reporters to come back.
While I respect Stewart, I don't think he understands that in general, NASCAR drivers have a relatively easy group of reporters to work with.
Where Stewart and others believe the NASCAR media likes to engage in "gotcha journalism," I believe it's simply "journalism."
Phoenix Racing owner James Finch told SiriusXM's NASCAR channel Tuesday that driver Kurt Busch either needs to "get his mind right" or the team will be forced to find a new driver.
"I don't want to give up on the talent Kurt has," Finch told The Morning Drive. "He's one of the best drivers there. He's got some problems he needs to work through, and hopefully he can do that. If he can't, then I've got to go forward."
Busch was suspended by NASCAR on Monday after threatening a SportingNews.com reporter following Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Dover.
Finch said he would meet with Busch next week to discuss the situation and urge Busch to keep his temper under control in the future.
In the meantime, Finch said it "looks like" David Reutimann will drive the No. 51 this weekend at Pocono while Busch sits out.
When – and if – Busch returns to the team, Finch said, the driver "needs to get on track and go forward."
NASCAR's suspension of Kurt Busch on Monday was the most surprised I've ever been at a penalty announcement for a couple reasons.
First of all, I always felt NASCAR's "probation" was relatively meaningless. Turns out it's not. Busch was already on probation when he threatened SportingNews.com reporter Bob Pockrass after Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Dover, and that played a big part in the suspension.
Second, I didn't think Busch's actions were enough to draw a suspension. Another fine? Sure. But a suspension? NASCAR typically reserves suspensions only for the most egregious incidents.
Threatening to beat up a reporter who asks a relatively innocent question is pretty bad, but it's not like Busch actually followed through and did something physical. That said, there's no question NASCAR looked at Busch's previous incidents and felt it needed to send a huge message to the driver: ENOUGH!
If that's the case, I certainly agree.
At the start of the season, Busch's rebuilding project was encouraging. He seemed sincere about trying to get himself back together and he was doing a good job of avoiding rough spots up until Darlington. I personally bought into the idea that Busch was using a second chance to get some positive momentum for his career and his life.
But ever since he snapped at Darlington – he drove through the No. 39 team's pit box, hit Ryan Newman's car on pit road and shouted at crew members – it all seemed to unravel. The goodwill from his hilarious Talladega Nights act at 'Dega disappeared, and he's appeared to be as unhappy as ever.
That said, there was no excuse for his comments to Pockrass after finishing fourth at Dover. Anyone who thinks Pockrass was out of line with his question to Busch is either an apologist for the driver or someone who isn't being honest with themselves.
NASCAR holds the drivers who finish second through fifth on pit road to do media interviews. Pockrass wasn't somewhere he shouldn't have been or making a demand on Busch that was unreasonable.
Busch himself brought up the topic of probation in an interview with ESPN (and was actually funny about it, making a comment about nose-picking); Pockrass was simply following up. There was no reason for Busch to suddenly turn sour about a subject he'd just mentioned moments earlier.
So what if he raced hard with Justin Allgaier and was frustrated? Professional athletes have to deal with these situations all the time, and 99.9 percent of them don't threaten the media who ask about it.
If Busch felt the question was inflammatory, then he should have either deflected it or answered it in about one million other ways than telling Pockrass he'd like to beat him up – with a freaking SPEED camera crew right there recording the whole thing!
When I found out about the incident, I was personally upset on Pockrass' behalf. I used to be co-workers with Pockrass and got to see his incredible work ethic up close. I admire him because I've never known anyone who works harder at any job than Pockrass does at his. The dude is just an incredibly driven individual, he's well-respected by just about everyone and he is not an attention whore in any way.
People kept asking me on Twitter for a reaction to the incident, but I didn't want to tweet something I would regret later. Ask yourself this: How would you feel if a someone threatened to beat the crap out of your friend who was simply doing his job?
Busch may be a fun guy away from the track who does great things for U.S. troops, but when he gets into a competitive environment, he's the Incredible Hulk. NASCAR's decision indicates officials believe that's not an acceptable way to behave.
It'd be nice to think the suspension will finally make Busch realize he can't keep treating people in a disrespectful manner, but ultimately I doubt it will have that kind of lasting impact.
The following are quotes from SPEED analyst Jimmy Spencer, a former driver who infamously clashed with Kurt Busch in 2003:
"Kurt Busch's suspension is long overdue, and that is coming from someone who learned his lesson after sitting out a race for punching him a few years ago. Kurt has been given plenty of chances to right his wrongs and put himself back on the right path, but he has failed to take advantage of any of those opportunities.
NASCAR had to do something to restore a sense of respect toward the sport on Kurt's behalf because he seems to consistently flaunt his disrespect for everything and everyone in this sport. Maybe sitting out and watching the race from the pit box or his couch will wake him up to how great he really has it.
If Kurt is under the microscope, it is because he has put himself there by acting as if the rules don't apply to him. But the rules apply to everyone, and if you cannot treat your fellow competitors, crew members and members of the media in a respectable manner, you do not deserve to race. He's a hell of a driver, but until he gets his temper under control, he has no business in a race car.
Speaking from experience, I can say that my suspension was extremely upsetting to me, but it made me a better person off the track. That's what Kurt needs now, and I hope this helps him. It seems to have straightened his little brother, Kyle, out, and I hope the same is true for Kurt."
NASCAR has apparently had enough of Kurt Busch's act.
In a rare Monday penalty announcement, the sanctioning body suspended Busch for his comments to SportingNews.com reporter Bob Pockrass after Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Dover.
Pockrass had asked Busch if he felt hamstrung by his probation status, following up on a comment Busch had made to ESPN moments earlier. But Busch took exception to the question and said he would beat up Pockrass if not for the probation.
NASCAR said in a statement Busch was suspended for all racing activities this weekend – which includes the Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway – due to violation of probation and verbal abuse of a media member. It also extended his previous probation from July 25 to the end of the season.
"I accept NASCAR's decision," Busch said in a statement. "I put them in a box, they had to take action and it's my fault for putting them in this position. I apologize for the comments I made to Bob Pockrass."
This isn't the first time Busch has clashed with reporters.
After the Richmond race last September, Busch had to be restrained from going after NASCAR.com writer Joe Menzer and then ripped Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer's transcript in half.
In the season's final race, Busch was caught on a YouTube video berating the respected ESPN pit reporter Jerry Punch. NASCAR decided to fine the driver $50,000 for his actions.
In the offseason, Busch separated from Penske Racing and joined with Phoenix Racing, where he planned to rebuild his image.
The project seemed to be going well until Darlington, when Busch drew the ire of Ryan Newman's pit crew by doing an angry burnout through the team's pit box after a crash. Busch and several crew members then had an altercation following the race.
Newman told SI.com that Busch's actions showed he had a "chemical imbalance."
Busch was fined $50,000 again and placed on NASCAR probation, which is what sparked the controversy on Saturday.
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