Jim Utter,The Charlotte Observer
Kurt’s Last Call
AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Chase for the Nextel Cup will go on this season without the reigning series champion.
Roush Racing has suspended Kurt Busch, the 2004 series champion, from the final two races of the season because of issues surrounding his criminal citation Friday night for reckless driving.
“We took this action following an evaluation of all the circumstances surrounding Kurt’s Friday night altercation with the sheriff’s office and after consultation and review of all the circumstances with our sponsors,” Roush Racing president Geoff Smith said.
“It’s the last straw for Roush Racing. We’re officially retiring as Kurt Busch’s apologists effective today.”
When interviewed by NBC before the race, Busch repeated his insistence alcohol was not involved. An emotional Busch also expressed disappointment over being removed from the No. 97.
“Obviously, I’m upset. It’s tough. I’m a race car driver, there’s a race today, and I’d love to be in the race,” Busch said, pausing to collect himself. "My crew, (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig, I have to thank them for what they gave me. Man, it’s just unfortunate. I’d love to be there for them today.
“That’s the decision they made, and I will live with it.”
Busch’s team is sponsored in part by Crown Royal – owned by Diageo – which promotes an extensive drink responsibly ad campaign.
Diageo officials released the following statement Sunday afternoon: "Diageo does not condone this type of behavior from anyone affiliated with our brands or our business. We fully support Roush Racing’s swift actions in this regard.”
Next season, Busch is scheduled to drive the No. 2 Dodge for Penske Racing South, sponsored by Miller Brewing Co.
Reached Sunday, team owner Roger Penske said he didn’t expect Busch’s situation to affect his new ride.
“It’s unfortunate for high profile athletes who are all under significant scrutiny,” Penske said. "Kurt made a public apology to the sheriff.
“We’ll support him 100 percent in the future. We will continue to work with him to show that he is the great driver that he is.”
Under the Chase format, the top 10 drivers in points are locked in for the remainder of the season.
Although Busch, 27, will not run the final two races of this season’s Chase, he is guaranteed to finish no worse than 10th in points on the year.
Busch was ranked eighth in points before Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. After missing the race, he is ninth, 441 points behind leader Tony Stewart.
Busch Series driver Kenny Wallace replaced Busch in Sunday’s race, while Roush Craftsman Truck Series driver Todd Kluever will be behind the wheel next weekend in Homestead, Fla.
“I feel bad for everybody in this whole situation,” said Wallace, who finished 16th in the race.
Busch will not be allowed to drive for another team this year, Smith said.
Friday night, Busch was spotted driving about 60 mph in a 45 mph zone by a Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy and pulled over not far from the race track.
Busch was argumentative and uncooperative, said Lt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department. The deputy detected the smell of alcohol on his breath; Busch refused a field sobriety test; and was taken into custody and transported to the sheriff’s office’s temporary facility at the track, Chagolla said.
At the facility, a blood-alcohol test was attempted on Busch but the machine "malfunctioned,” Chagolla said. Busch was then released with the criminal citation for reckless driving.
In a statement released late Saturday night, Busch apologized to the sheriff’s department for his actions, but emphasized his citation was not “alcohol related.”
NASCAR said it would take no official action regarding the matter.
“NASCAR fully supports Jack Roush’s decision to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 97 Ford for the remainder of the season,” said Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president for corporate communications.