CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyle Busch lost his temper and made a poor decision in what must have been a fit of rage.
For that, he has been severely punished.
Busch was “parked” — the NASCAR equivalent of suspended — for the Saturday and Sunday races at Texas Motor Speedway as a penalty for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution in the Truck Series race. Instead of fleeing Texas, Busch stayed at the track and suffered the ultimate humiliation in sitting atop the pit box to watch someone else drive his race car.
Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough suffering for a huge faction of NASCAR fans tired of Busch’s antics. There have been calls for his immediate firing from Joe Gibbs Racing, and promises to boycott M&M’s if Mars Inc. doesn’t force Busch out by threatening to pull its sponsorship of the No. 18 team.
Those Toyota commercials that have run for weeks with Busch promoting the Camry were noticeably absent in Sunday’s telecast, and team owner Gibbs was noncommittal when asked about Busch’s future with the team.
The scrutiny of Busch and speculation on his future has been suffocating, and it’s created a frenzied push for further penalties. On Monday, NASCAR fined Busch $50,000, placed him on probation through the end of the year and warned him he will be suspended indefinitely if he has another action NASCAR deems “disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event.”
That’s where it should end.
Being thrown out of a race is the most serious punishment in NASCAR, and one president Mike Helton doesn’t exercise often. Only two other drivers had been parked prior to Busch in the past 10 years: Kevin Harvick wasn’t allowed to run a 2002 Cup race at Martinsville for his actions during and after a Truck race, and Robby Gordon couldn’t race the 2007 Cup race at Pocono for his actions during and after a Nationwide event in Montreal.
Lots of drivers have shown poor judgment over the past decade, but parking them has always been the last option in Helton’s book of punishment. The reason? It can ruin a drivers’ career.
Busch is already the most polarizing driver in NASCAR for both his 104 career victories in NASCAR’s top three series, and a long list of bad boy behavior that stretches over his entire NASCAR career. Yes, he’s one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR history. And yes, he has no one but himself to blame for all the drama that distracts from his accomplishments.
Busch figured out some time ago that he’s his own worst enemy, and his setbacks have almost been exclusively of his own doing.
So NASCAR, tired of so many missteps by Busch, took a stand and gave him the harshest punishment in the book.
Maybe it was long overdue, but it sent a strong message that likely has Busch fearing the affect it will have on his future in NASCAR. He could lose his job. He could be ordered to stop racing in the Nationwide and Truck Series — an edict that would cripple Kyle Busch Motorsports — or he could face further sanctions from JGR and his sponsors.
There’s no doubt he made a mistake, and maybe it’s the one that will change his behavior conclusively. But it’s been addressed, severely and swiftly, and Busch should now be allowed to begin repairing his reputation.