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.