Would Kurt Busch Be A Good Fit For IndyCar?
When Kurt Busch was released from Roger Penske’s NASCAR team last week, it seemed like more than a few fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series were clamoring for Busch to come over to our side of the track and bring his talents and fans with him. Many argued that this was the kind of exposure that IndyCar needed to “move the needle”.
There is no denying that Kurt and his little brother Kyle are both immensely talented. There is also no denying that the Busch family put little emphasis on teaching the most basic manners to their children. They seem to be in a neck-in-neck battle to see who can lead NASCAR in boorish behavior.
Just last month, Kyle Busch was suspended from racing in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas after intentionally crashing Ron Hornaday. It was a scary looking scene as Busch plowed into Hornaday at speed, during a yellow flag and sent him headfirst into the wall. This came less than three weeks after Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash at Las Vegas, when driver safety was foremost on everyone’s mind. This was only the latest episode of childish behavior for the younger Busch.
Not to be outdone, older brother Kurt showed a complete lack of class in a profanity-laced exchange with pit-reporter Dr. Jerry Punch of ESPN that became an overnight internet sensation on YouTube, just a couple of weeks later. It seems that the elder Busch thought his time was too precious to wait for an opportune moment for Punch to conduct a live interview with Busch after his season had ended when his transmission failed early in the race. What else he had to do at that point is still a mystery.
Now Kurt Busch has plenty of time on his hands. Roger Penske had seen enough and fired him. It wasn’t just the exchange with Punch that landed Busch on the unemployment line. This was just the latest chapter in a long list of un-Penske like behavior from Kurt Busch. Quite honestly, I was surprised when Penske hired Busch following the 2005 season after being summarily dumped by Rousch after winning the 2004 championship – even more so that he managed to survive six seasons with Penske. Make no mistake, Roger Penske’s NASCAR team is nowhere near the level of his IndyCar team, but he still expects a spotless public persona from his drivers in any series.
Some suspect that Kurt Busch will be motivated to try the IZOD IndyCar Series. He has driven an IndyCar before. Early in his career at Penske, he drove a Team Penske Dallara on the road course at Homestead and was very impressive in quickly getting it up to speed, prompting speculation that he could immediately be a success in IndyCars.
As challenging as it has proven to be to go from IndyCars to stockcars, I think making the move in the other direction would be just as difficult. Getting one of these cars up to speed on an empty road course is one thing, racing with skilled drivers who have been doing it their entire career is another.
I don’t doubt that Kurt Busch has the talent to eventually master the transition (although I think his little brother would be better at it), I just think it would be more difficult than some believe. My question is; would he be welcome over here?
Some believe that what this series is lacking is a “bad boy”. It certainly helps to have intrigue in the series when there is a good guy versus a villain. But I think the rivalries should come from within. Lately, Dario Franchitti has filled the role of the villain – not because he’s a bad guy, but because fans have grown tired of watching him win and his recent seemingly sense of entitlement. Will Power versus Dario Franchitti can become one of the best rivalries we’ve seen since Paul Tracy and Helio Castroneves.
Bringing in an interloper from NASCAR may produce some initial curiosity, but I think Busch’s followers would soon grow tired of it – unless he was successful. That would be the worst scenario. If Kurt Busch climbed into an IndyCar and beat everyone here at their own game, it would solidify what many NASCAR fans already think; that IndyCar drivers are soft and simply not very good drivers. I can hear Darrell Waltrip right now, crowing about how many of IndyCar’s best went to NASCAR and flopped, but here comes one of NASCAR’s better drivers showing the “wine & cheese” drivers how it’s done. But I don’t think that would be the case. He would struggle initially and whatever NASCAR fans followed him would quickly lose interest.
Regardless, he is not the kind of villain we need. He isn’t even a polarizing figure. At least a polarizing figure has as many fans as enemies. Kurt Busch would be roundly hated. He would drive away sponsorship and the series would develop the reputation of being the land of misfit toys, where misfits and rejects from other series can find a home. I don’t think that is the brand that Randy Bernard is trying to cultivate.
This is all speculation, anyway. Kurt Busch is not coming to IndyCar. He doesn’t want to. He wants to remain in NASCAR. While his image has been tainted and the top teams are unlikely to sign him, there is no shortage of second tier teams in NASCAR that will be tripping all over each other in order to sign him. That’s fine. Let him stay there. We don’t need him.
Having natural talent and a following of rubes does not make Kurt Busch an attractive commodity for the IZOD IndyCar Series. We have enough star-power that Randy Bernard is building the right way, without bringing an unpopular malcontent in just for ratings. With a solid mixture of veterans including Franchitti, Power, Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe combined with the younger crop of drivers like Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden – we don’t need NASCAR’s rejects in order to build a fan base.