(Where Busch's career goes after his Texas behavior will define his place in NASCAR history)
Everyone deals with a defining moment at some point.
Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway there were two.
Both Kyle Busch and NASCAR made decisions in the Lone Star State that will have major implications to their futures.
When Busch decided to extract revenge on Ron Hornaday after their early race truck race skirmish he put his career at a crossroads.
The talented but mercurial Busch must now decide going forward if he’ll use the experience and its ramifications as a tool to become a full-fledged, championship caliber driver or NASCAR’s version of a hockey goon.
There’s never been a question about Busch’s abilities behind the wheel of a racecar or truck. His winning record across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions is truly remarkable especially when the time span of what he’s accomplished is factored into the equation.
Busch is on pace to break records on the racetrack that had appeared to be untouchable before he came along.
However the biggest hurdle that continues to haunt Busch is his inability to harness the emotions that sooner or later always get the best of him.
This was supposed to be the year that Busch eliminated that reputation and took his game to the next level to become a legitimate Sprint Cup Series championship contender.
He scored a series-high four wins in the regular season and came into the Chase as the number one seed, determined to prove his detractors wrong that predicted another meltdown was on the horizon.
Busch’s playoff hopes were over nearly before they started with a strong of poor finishes and mediocre results that took him from the title picture in short order.
And then came last Friday night.
Perhaps it was the frustration of what happened to his title aspirations or the incredible dislike he has for all things Kevin Harvick that caused Busch to get into the altercation with Hornaday, who was piloting one of the KHI entries in Friday night’s race. But whatever the reason may have been, Busch snapped like he’s never snapped before – which is saying a lot.
It’s impossible to know whether or not NASCAR’s decision to sit Busch for the rest of Friday night’s race and ultimately the remainder of the Texas weekend was based on just the egregious nature of the single act or a compilation of his body of work.
NASCAR’s comments in the aftermath of the official word that Busch was being parked for the Texas Nationwide and Sprint Cup races leads one to believe the driver’s rap sheet also helped drive the decision
The sanctioning body added to the parking – only the third time in more than a decade such action has been taken – by fining Busch $50,000 and placing him on probation through the end of the year.
While NASCAR may be done with its punishment, Busch still faces the decisions to be made by team owner Joe Gibbs and sponsor M&M’s/Mars. Both issued responses and statements in the last few days that carry the possibility of more disciplinary action.
So Busch continues to twist in the wind for now with his only public reaction a hastily prepared apology that was distributed in the dead of last Saturday night.
Only Busch can chart the course from here and while I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Gibbs or M&Ms sit him out for another weekend or maybe the remainder of the year, it would be shocking to see him released and looking for another ride.
Busch is no different than any other talented yet emotional athlete that tests the boundaries of their team and sport. In nearly every case of a temperamental star that despite their headaches produces results, the athlete remains employed.
As will Busch, albeit with some major choices to be made in his career.
But NASCAR also has a choice to make. After creating the “Wild West” atmosphere of the “Boys Have at It” era, the sanctioning body has now made its statement regarding where the line is when drivers go too far.
For nearly two years, NASCAR has reminded fans and competitors they’d know it “when they see it” in terms of the policy’s boundaries being broken.
They didn’t see it when Carl Edwards came back on track more than a hundred laps down to turn Brad Keselowski at Atlanta. They didn’t see it when Edwards turned Keselowski at the start-finish line of a Nationwide race in St. Louis, wadded up about a dozen innocent other drivers in the aftermath and then bragged about it in victory lane. They didn’t see it when Busch put Keselowski into the wall in a Nationwide race at Bristol only to make the same move on Elliott Sadler in a truck race last August. They also didn’t see it during races that turned into demolition derbies in Sonoma and Martinsville.
But NASCAR has seen it now and Busch is the example.
What we’ll all see next going forward is a very good question indeed.
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