Kurt Busch is reportedly out at Penske Racing, according FoxSports.com, citing multiple reports, including a story in the Charlotte Observer. Busch will be replaced in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge next season following a season of high profile outbursts and meltdowns.
Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, has been with Penske since 2006, and has been at the Cup level for 11 years. He has posted 24 wins in his Cup career, 1o of them with Penske.
But Busch has received extra attention this season after confrontations with media members and highly publicized in-race meltdowns directed towards his team and crew chief.
Following his transmission problems at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch was caught on camera making an obscene gesture. He was later shown berating ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch in a video that went viral on YouTube. NASCAR fined Busch $50,000 for his actions. He apologized.
Both Penske and Shell Pennzoil, Busch’s sponsor, released statements condemning the behavior.
Penske issued its statement shortly after the video went viral. The organization said:
These actions do not represent Penske Racing and are inconsistent with the company’s standards for behavior, respect for others and professionalism. This matter is being reviewed internally with no further comment at this time.
Shell and Pennzoil echoed those sentiments in their statement:
Shell and Pennzoil are disappointed with recent actions by driver, Kurt Busch, at the final race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race season. His actions are in no way consistent with the way we want our brands represented and we have expressed our disappointment and concerns directly to Penske Racing.
In addition to his actions at Homestead, Busch has received a lot of negative attention for his tirades over the radio during races. Busch had a rocky relationship with his crew chief of the last two years, Steve Addington. The pair won four races in two seasons, but Addington chose to leave the team at the end of the season. While there is nothing official to indicate that Addington left due to the way that Busch treated him, it is hard to imagine that it did not play a role.
In his time at Penske, Busch had been with four different crew chiefs.
Rumor has it that David Ragan is the leading candidate for the job. Ragan is coming off of one of his best Sprint Cup seasons, having earned his first career victory at Daytona International Speedway, and being close to winning the Daytona 500. David Reutimann and Brian Vickers, and Sam Hornish, who has driven for Penske before, may also be considered for the ride, if the report is true.
At this time, there has been no official word, so assume this a rumor.
Update: The Associated Press is reporting that Busch and Penske have agreed to part ways. This is the second time in his career, Busch has been released from a major team for his behavior. Busch was released from Roush Fenway Racing following an incident with Arizona police.
Update 2: Penske officially announced the separation. Penske owner Roger Penske said:
I appreciate the victories that Kurt has brought Penske Racing and our sponsors over the past six years. While I am disappointed that Kurt will not be racing for our team in the future, both Kurt and I felt that separating at this time was best for all parties, including our team and sponsors. I wish Kurt the best in his future racing endeavors.
I am grateful to Penske Racing for six very productive years. Together we won a lot of races -16 in all. Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy, but it’s an important step for me and allows me to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person. I want to personally thank Roger Penske for the opportunity that he has given me.