Last night, Jim Utter broke the news that Kurt Busch was being fired by Roger Penske’s NASCAR team. Almost immediately, Busch’s lawyer stated that Utter’s report was “inaccurate.” At that time, I noted that “inaccurate” when used by a lawyer in that context usually doesn’t mean the report is not true and assumed that today it would be announced as a mutual agreement to separate. Sure enough, that is what was announced this morning. Personally, I don’t think there was very much mutual agreement to it. Roger Penske (likely with considerable input from Shell/Pennzoil) probably decided Kurt Busch was no longer a proper fit for his organization and Kurt Busch decided not to fight his contract being terminated.
It seems that there was surprise in some circles that this happened. What surprised me was that it took this long for Penske to fire Busch. Roger Penske has always run a very polished and professional organization; throughout his time with Penske, Kurt Busch was frequently unprofessional. His f-bomb laced tirades on the radio, personal attacks against team personnel, and conduct towards the media are all things that run counter to how Penske racing teams have been run. Had this been Penske’s IndyCar team or his ALMS team from a few years ago, Busch would have been fired long ago.
No doubt there are some that will argue that Busch was fired for expressing his personality, for being the “black hat” and didn’t fit in with Penske’s and NASCAR’s corporate image. I disagree. There is a difference between expressing your personality and being a professional. When Busch had to be restrained from going after a reporter, grabbed a transcript from another reporter’s hands and tore it up, and when he cursed out yet another reporter in the process of waiting to do an on air interview, he crossed that line between the two. When he continuously cursed out his crew and called out specific team members on the radio over poor performance he crossed that line. It amazes me that anyone would want to put in the effort to win for a driver like that. You can be the “bad guy” but still do your job professionally. His firing isn’t about an isolated incident, but the result of a history of multiple instances of the same behavior.