Kurt Busch's Richmond Win Gives Him Another Chance to Leave Troubled Past Behind

Monte Dutton@@monteduttonFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2015

Happy days are here again for Kurt Busch.
Happy days are here again for Kurt Busch.Steve Helber/Associated Press

Now that Kurt Busch has finally closed one deal—winning a Sprint Cup race and securing a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all eyes will be watching to see if he can close the other deal.

It’s the one that has dogged him all his career. The one that has everything to do with controlling himself, not his race car.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling when you pull deep from within and you go through troubles, and you know, when you’re accused of something and things go sideways,” Busch said to Fox in Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway. “Your personal life doesn’t need to affect your business life.”

The winner of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 has struggled to control his temper throughout his career. You like literature? Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

“The wins will come,” Busch said in the winner’s media conference. “We don’t need to force it, and let’s just settle in for the long run.

“So here we are. We’re winners in April. It feels good.”

Busch was bound to win soon.

He’s only 18th in the Sprint Cup point standings, but that’s because his suspension for a nasty domestic-abuse case—he and one-time girlfriend Patricia Driscoll parried over the case in a way more commonly associated with daytime TV—forced him to spot the rest of the field three races. No matter.

When no criminal charges were filed, NASCAR gave Busch the waiver that effectively puts him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup come September.

Crew chief Tony Gibson (right) seems to be the right man at the right time for Kurt Busch.
Crew chief Tony Gibson (right) seems to be the right man at the right time for Kurt Busch.Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Though Busch has competed in only six of the season’s nine races, finishing fifth, third, 14th twice, 15th and, now, first. Sunday’s victory—it was supposed to be run Saturday night, but rain intervened—was the 26th of his rather colorful career.

When the suspension was lifted, Busch observed, “I think that I might have been driving too hard, too much of a chip on my shoulder, so to speak, to start the year, but it was playing out well.”

Busch won a championship in 2004, the first under NASCAR’s so-called Chase format. He’s won at least one race in 12 of the last 14 seasons. He’s made the Chase eight times. He’s won five times in the Xfinity Series and four in Camping World Trucks.

He’s also been arrested in Phoenix for reckless driving, being belligerent with officers under the direction of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the process. He was once punched in the nose after a Michigan race by Jimmy Spencer, and when Fox Sports revealed what he had reportedly said to enrage Spencer, most of the public felt he had it coming. He’s gone after journalists and been fired by Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

The enfant terrible is 36 years old. He’s competed in 513 Cup races. He’s getting too old for the nonsense.

Winning, he added, “doesn’t change. As I’m older, I can appreciate it more because of the time and effort it takes to assemble a good group of guys. It’s where I realize now what I may have taken for granted when I was racing with (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig in the Roush days and when we won the championship.

“The chip on my shoulder will now be a trophy I get to carry out of here. ... I told myself I had to slow down to go faster; that’s how I need to drive, and that way I’m able to focus on the finer details that separate the good guys from the great guys in this garage.”

Busch has always been appreciated for his willingness to drop everything and make time to help promoters sell tickets. He is a wonderful fellow when he is in his right mind, which...seems rare in a retrospective of his career. His reputation is a bit skewed because the misdeeds have always detracted from the pleasant moments.

When a man is accused of attacking a woman, and then he defends himself by claiming she is “a trained assassin,” it tends to obscure his redeeming qualities.

If he had any less talent, Busch would have long ago been deemed too much trouble. He can drive, though. He can make the No. 41 Chevrolet of his walk and talk. His skill talks better than his mouth. His mouth gets him in trouble.

Kurt Busch by the Numbers So Far
StartsWinsPolesAvg. FinishLaps Led
6128.7520
www.racing-reference.info

The "New Kurt Busch" has been declared about as often as “New and Improved” stickers show up on boxes of detergent. He’s a bowl of bran perpetually claiming to have more raisins, but the scoops don’t add up.

Busch now has a veteran crew chief, Tony Gibson, who is patient and experienced. The relationship is strong.

“I think it’s old-school racing,” Gibson said. “That’s where I was brought up, in old redneck racing and tape measures and strings, and it’s still four tires and a hunk of steel that’s got to meet the race track. I know Kurt feels the same way.

For most of the Toyota Owners 400, Kurt Busch's Chevy was firmly in command.
For most of the Toyota Owners 400, Kurt Busch's Chevy was firmly in command.Jeff Curry/Getty Images

“You know, me and Jimmy Fennig have a lot in common. We’re great friends, and I lean on him now, too. We talk every weekend. He’s a big influence on my career. ... I think (Busch) makes me better, and hopefully, I make him be better. Moving forward, I think if we push each other and believe in each other like we’re doing right now...we’ve got a shot to win the championship just as well as anybody.”

Has Busch learned from his latest round of image problems? Who knows? No one will know until the next time things don’t go his way. At the moment, properly stung, he’s keeping his emotions in check and his mouth shut. He’s a hell of a race car driver. Let’s hope he doesn’t provide another reason to forget that.

All quotes are taken from NASCAR media, team and manufacturer sources unless otherwise noted.

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