There was a post yesterday over at SB Nation, written by Jordan Bianchi, that was titled “If I Were A NASCAR Owner, I’d Hire Kurt Busch.” In it, Bianchi makes a case for why a big time owner should hire Kurt Busch, despite his very recent and past problems. His main point is that Busch is a proven race winner and a championship contender and his performance on track is enough to look past his behavior. The problem is though, that teams and sponsors don’t agree.
In the new economy, and the hopefully rebounding world of NASCAR sponsorship, all companies are looking for is a return on their sponsorship dollars. As a team, you can’t sell a sponsorship based heavily on performance, because performance isn’t guaranteed. If winning races and contending for championships was all sponsors cared about, Matt Kenseth wouldn’t have open slots on his schedule, and JTG-Daugherty and Front Row Motorsports would not still be in a business. Winning is great, but it isn’t everything.
When you pour $10, $15, or $20 million into a NASCAR marketing program that is based around a driver, there isn’t a company on this planet that would be happy about their driver going on F-bomb laced tirades that show up on YouTube. You might get away with one. Kurt Busch has several. Companies can’t afford to be associated with that type of behavior, edgy or not.
And don’t you think the fact that both Jack Roush and Roger Penske threw their hands in the air and said “no mas” with this guy is a serious affirmation of his character? They both decided, regardless of his performance, that he was too much of a liability to keep.
Busch has been mentioned recently as a possible replacement in the #20 if Joey Logano gets released from JGR. He’s also been rumored to be a candidate for RCR’s #31 if Richard Childress decides to let Jeff Burton go at season’s end. But let’s be realistic here, why would either organization bring him into the mix? JGR already has enough problems with one Busch brother, who last season nearly lost his ride because of his ridiculous behavior. Word is it took some serious negotiating to get sponsor M&M’s to agree to keep Kyle in the #18 for this year. There is no way they’d want to double up on their Busch risk. And if Richard Petty Motorsports couldn’t sell Kurt Busch, what makes anyone think JGR and RCR could, or would even want to try?
There comes a point when owners and sponsors have to decide what’s best for the future of their companies. With every incident and outburst, Kurt Busch pushes himself further and further from the top. These well publicized incidents are not isolated with Busch. It’s a pattern of behavior that reveals what his character really is. There are plenty of other ultra-competitive drivers out there who manage to win races and championships without getting in confrontations with the media, and slinging profanity at their teams when things don’t go well.
Competitive or not, Busch is in the unsponsored Phoenix #51 for a reason. Teams have drawn the line of what is tolerable behavior, and Busch might not ever make it back.