Last week's announcement that NASCAR bad-boys, the Busch brothers, will team up and share the no. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsport Camry in the 2012 Nationwide Series is a curious one to many, but one which at the same time makes perfect sense. This writer has watched with interest as the immensely talented Busch brothers' edgy characters have seen their popularity decline, despite the fans adoration for the maverick figure, the driver seen to be taking the challenge to the dominant 5-time champion triumvirate of Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports.
However this week, Kurt Busch figuratively flipped the bird at Richard Petty Motorsports – which refused to take him on to replace AJ Allmendinger, believing him to be unmarketable and instead hiring the less proven Aric Almirola – by teaming up with his brother Kyle Busch and signing with the Monster Energy drinks corporation, in a move which underlines his desire to keep proving people wrong, while at the same time rebuilding his battered reputation.
Elder brother Kurt, the 2004 Cup champion, parted ways 'by mutual consent' with Penske after his now-infamous altercation with pit-lane reporter Dr. Jerry Punch following his retirement from the final race of the 2011 Cup season. This dramatic turn of events came despite a bright start to the season, with victories in the Budweiser Shootout invitation race and the First Gatorade Duel, which decided the grid for the Daytona 500. However his relationship with the team soon soured, and 'Kurt Busch: Radio Sweetheart' – a compilation of his best radio tirades at the team – became a regular feature on Jimmy Spencer's post-race show for SPEED. Despite managing to win at Sonoma, which propelled him into the Chase, poor form saw him finish down in a disappointing 11th at the end of the season.
Following his departure from Penske and snub by 'The King,' Kurt joined James Finch's tiny Phoenix Racing squad, and was quickest in testing last week. He has spoken at length about his desire to go back to basics this year, and just have fun. Contrary to expectations, he has found this in his brother's operation, which steps up from the Truck Series to the Nationwide championship and will be competing for owners points, as neither Kurt nor Kyle is eligible to score points in the Nationwide series (drivers may nominate just one of the three tiers of NASCAR in which they score points).
“Conversations have been good. We’ve certainly have had a lot of talks about how this whole deal is going to work out and what we both are looking to get out of this,” Kyle said of his relationship with his brother.
“You know, Kurt’s never really done a full Nationwide deal. He’s always kind of had the itch, but never really cared about it. But now this is something for him to get out there and hopefully win some races in our car and help us put up some win banners here in our shop.”
All that has been said above about Kurt could be repeated for his younger brother – Kyle Busch is of course no stranger to controversy himself. Released by Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 after a turbulent relationship with Kellogg's – see the connection? – Rowdy made an obscene gesture at a NASCAR official while serving a pit-lane speeding penalty in Cup at Texas in 2010, earning himself another penalty and an angry message from crew chief Dave Rogers.
“Kyle, stop, please! We all work too hard for this; you're costing us!”
He was placed on probation and fined $25,000 following multiple collisions with Kevin Harvick at the Darlington Southern 500 last year, and subsequently had his license suspended for 45 days after being caught well over the speed-limit driving at over 120 mph in a 45 mph residential zone. Further controversy continued to find the 26 year old, as Busch then gave Joey Coulter's truck a “congratulatory bump” after the race at Kansas, earning him a punch from Coulter's team-owner Richard Childress. Then at Texas in the truck series last November, Busch retaliated against title contender Ron Hornaday after slight earlier contact and dumped him into the fence while under caution, an act for which he was parked for the rest of the weekend, costing himself any chance at winning the Chase in Cup. The deliberate crash prompted Mars Inc, the parent company of his primary sponsor M&M's, to publicly condemn his actions and even consider replacing him with Almirola for the last 2 rounds of the Chase, while Z-Line Designs, who sponsored his Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide car last season, asked for him to be replaced by fellow JGR Cup driver Denny Hamlin at the final round in Miami.
“I’ve had a lot of fans tell me, ‘Don’t change anything, we love the way you are and keep that attitude,'” Busch said recently. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like me not changing anything is helping.
“I have to change something, I just have to figure out what that is and make it work for me.”
Busch said that he does not think that the controversies which have engulfed him of late have caused any lasting damage to his relationship with his Cup team boss Joe Gibbs.
“Him and I have a great dialogue, we talk quite a bit,” he said. “It’s been really good. He believes in me – I wouldn’t be here if the guy didn’t believe in me. He knows what kind of person I am. And it’s not that I have to convince the people that are closest around me what kind of person I am – I have to convince those that are furthest from me that don’t ever get to see me.”
The fact is, Kyle remains a phenomenal talent, and remains the only man ever to have won all 3 NASCAR events in one weekend, taking victories in the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series at Bristol in August 2010. The 2009 Nationwide champion also holds the record for the most wins in series history, with 51 victories in 222 starts in the second tier category. For all his troubles, he still holds an appeal.
“Monster Energy has always stood for competing and winning no matter what the sport,” said Monster Energy Company President, Mark Hall.
“To make this happen, we’ve always sought out the most determined, fearless and committed athletes for the Monster team. With the Busch brothers sharing the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports Monster Energy Camry, we have every reason to believe we have drivers capable of running up front every weekend.”
“Since debuting in NASCAR, Kyle Busch Motorsports has had the goal to add a championship-caliber Nationwide Series team to our organization,” Kyle Busch said. “With today’s announcement of Monster Energy as primary sponsor and my brother Kurt as the second driver, we’ve accomplished that goal.”
For the time being, Kyle says that his team will limit its activities to the Nationwide Series, although he does harbour aspirations of moving up to the Cup series in future.
“One day, maybe,” Kyle said. “It takes a hell of a lot more money to go Cup racing competitively than it does to go Nationwide racing. But this is a step in the right direction for sure.
“Hopefully this place is going to be around a long time. It’s a beautiful facility. You know, this is something that I feel is near and dear to my heart. I didn’t inherit this. It’s something that I’ve been building. I’ve tried to build all of this and hire the right people and put them in the right places so we can be successful.”
“The limits [for KBM] are endless,” adds Kurt. “You can say it’s surprising, but I just know how our dad raised us with racing. It’s all we’ve ever known; it’s all we’ve ever done. It’s obvious because we’ve always been so focused on what’s happening through our windshield that we’ve missed out on some everyday life — because we’re so focused on winning.
“So that’s what this building is built off of, and that’s why Kyle surrounded himself with the kind of people that he has. It’s all about winning. So it’s just neat to be able to team up as family. The possibilities are endless.”
But one thing is for certain about this most unpredictable partnership; expect fireworks. Asked recently whether his issues with Kyle had been resolved and the tension between them over, Harvick answered unequivocally “I don't think so – I hope he heard that too.” Some things never change.