ROSSBURG, OH - JUNE 06: Kurt Busch prepares to drive the #51 car during practice for the Feed the Children Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway on June 6, 2012 in Rossburg, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for True Speed Communication)
Kurt Busch won't be at Pocono Raceway this weekend, thanks to some threatening comments he made to a SportingNews.com reporter after the Nationwide Series at Dover.
NASCAR suspended Busch for telling reporter Bob Pockrass he'd beat him up if Busch wasn't already on probation, and thus the driver will spend Sunday watching the Pocono 400 at home.
Now, the question going forward is this: Will viewing Sprint Cup Series races on TV become a regular occurrence in Busch's future, or does he have enough talent that some team owner will always take a chance on him?
The answer is unclear at this time, but it likely depends on whether or not Busch himself can stop shooting himself in the foot with his mouth.
"When you have that much talent, you are given more opportunity; not everyone is treated equally," driver Jeff Burton said at Pocono this week. " ... His talent level will offer him more opportunities than someone who had not proved they could do it. But at some point, those opportunities will run out."
Busch has clashed with reporters on at least four occasions since September, and his high-profile incident with ESPN pit reporter Jerry Punch last November led to him parting ways with former team Penske Racing.
The volatile driver seemed intent on turning over a new leaf this season at the small, independent Phoenix Racing team, but it all unraveled in an incident with Ryan Newman's pit crew at Darlington. Since then, Busch has seemed to be even more tightly wound than usual.
When Pockrass approached to ask a relatively innocent question after Busch's fourth-place finish in the Dover Nationwide Series race, Busch hurt himself with his mouth and temper yet again.
And for a driver who hoped to use this year to rebuild and then sign with a top-tier team for 2013, Busch simply isn't doing himself any favors.
Tony Stewart, who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing, said a driver with a checkered past is "a huge concern" when it comes time to decide who to hire.
"You definitely have to look at that, for sure," Stewart said Friday. "Half the battle is getting a good partner and sponsor, and if the sponsors are leery, it puts you in a bad spot as an owner – unless you have unlimited funding and can just put in there whoever you want."
In the Sprint Cup Series, no owners really fit that description except for James Finch – who owns the team which currently employs Busch.
But even Finch may be on his last straw with Busch, telling SPEED's NASCAR RaceHub this week that if the driver mouths off in a Tuesday meeting with the owner, he's gone.
"He does have a tremendous amount of talent – that's the unfortunate side of it," four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon said Friday. "He could have such a bright future in this sport, and you continue to hope a guy learns his lesson and guy can pull it together. ... Eventually, you've got to start straightening up your act and utilizing your talent on the racetrack to earn the respect."
Busch is arguably one of the five most talented drivers in all of NASCAR, a former series champion who has shown an incredible gift for speed in too many races to count.
But with the NASCAR economic climate more sponsor-dependent than ever, Busch will need to find both a team and company willing to take a chance on him.
The driver was rumored to have had casual talks with Joe Gibbs Racing to replace Joey Logano, but JGR president J.D. Gibbs told Sirius/XM this week Busch was "not on our radar right now."
Similarly, Richard Childress Racing has spoken with Busch but may have trouble finding a sponsor to go along with a decision to invest in a driver who keeps finding trouble.
"He's letting himself down – that's what's sad about it," Burton said. "Kurt's not a bad guy. We all have weaknesses. One of his weaknesses is not knowing when to shut up."
Sponsors may not be willing to back Busch with millions of dollars when there's a chance he could unravel while wearing their logo across his chest. While Burton said the sport needs a personality like Busch, the veteran driver said that only applies when he's being "Good Kurt."
"I think he can get it together," Burton said. "But he's going to have to do it. If not, then eventually, his chances are going to run out."
Said Gordon: "Unfortunately, this is a step backward for him. I definitely think the amount of talent he has, if he can control his emotions, he can be at the top of this sport like he was at one time."