2012-01-19 / Sports

Sponsors Didn’t Want Kurt Busch

By Gerald Hodges

Richard Petty Richard Petty THE RACING REPORTER

Richard Petty said the reason Kurt Busch wasn’t hired to drive his No. 43 was personality.

“ Nobody at the time wanted to pay the bill for him,” said Petty. “That’s how simple it was. Everybody has to protect their brand. Smithfield Farms has a pretty laid-back, pretty good down-home persona in the general public. If they had taken him on it would have changed their ... they just didn’t like the personality.”

Busch, who was released from Penske Racing after a disastrous 2011 season that led the 2004 Cup champion to seek professional help for anger issues, ultimately signed with Phoenix Racing.

Petty said Smithfield Foods, which he introduced Thursday as a primary sponsor for the No. 43, was among those that wouldn’t come on board if Busch was involved. Petty said Best Buy, which left the No. 43 to join Roush Fenway Racing as a sponsor, had the same concern.

Despite his anger and rebellious attitude, Busch can handle a race car and he showed it this past week during preseason testing. He had the fastest time of any driver. His top speed of 206.058 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile track was the best lap turned by any driver.

In between talking about how much fun he’s having “old school” racing and how he needs to learn how to handle adversity better, Busch let it be known that he’s focused on 2013.

“Yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself,” Busch said at Daytona. “But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need. And all along we’re going to keep our eyes on the prize in 2013.”

According to Busch, he could have several quality options. He said he talked to a number of team owners about 2012, including Richard Childress, Michael Waltrip and Richard Petty.

“It was weird to hear his (Richard Petty’s) comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road,” Busch continued. “But the contracts just didn’t align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with James Finch, made the deal happen.”

Busch and his Phoenix Racing team has picked up one sponsor, TAG Heuer Eyewear. They will be the primary sponsor on the No. 51 Chevrolet for the Feb. 18 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, where Busch is the defending winner. Additionally, they will serve as an associate sponsor on the No. 51 Chevrolet during the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 and again on March 11 for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s hometown track.

Listening to Busch, it’s clear his plan is to be with Finch – a single-car owner who gets support from Hendrick Motorsports – for only one year. Then it’s on to bigger and better things. But to get that opportunity, Busch realizes he has to change. Busch said he plans to use 2012 as a platform to reintroduce himself to sponsors – to get in front of as many of them as possible and show them that he’s more than just a hothead.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things go between Busch, Finch and the rest of the NASCAR nation.

NASCAR has mandated that drivers and spotters will not be allowed to communicate with other drivers over their in-car radios in an ongoing effort to eliminate tandem racing at restrictor plate tracks. The decision was confirmed last Thursday as teams prepared for the first of a three-day test at Daytona International Speedway, a tune-up for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500. Over the past few years, as teams have refined their ability to team up with other cars to create more speed, drivers and spotters have had the ability to talk to multiple teams over their radios. They used it to coordinate which cars would pair up and to help drivers switch from pusher to pushee. By eliminating such communication, NASCAR hopes teams will have a more difficult time making deals and remaining in pairs. The driver pushing especially needs this communication because he has little to no visibility. It was so refined that one spotter would communicate for both drivers even if one of the drivers wasn’t with his organization. This is NASCAR’s latest rule change to address the twocar tandem.

There were only 32 cars that participated in last week’s test at Daytona. That number does not include some teams that folded during the offseason (such as Red Bull), some smaller outfits (such as Front Row Motorsports) and some that decided not to test (such as JTG Daugherty Racing).

NASCAR President Mike Helton said he didn’t think the number of teams participating in the test portended short fields for the regular season.

“I think there is a good deal more activity out there than is represented by testing and some of the other things,” he said, “And the fact that there will be in excess of 43 cars trying to make the Daytona 500 ... and we’ve been through cycles, particularly when we get to the June, July stretch, where we may only have 43 cars show up at the race track. But I don’t see us going below 43 this year. I may be surprised, but I think just knowing the chatter and the conversations that we’ve had with race teams and organizations that either have participated or are going to participate, that we’ll have full fields.”

Geoff Bodine, 1986 Daytona 500 winner, said last Wednesday he still hopes to have a deal in place to compete in this year’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, as well as the invitation-only Budweiser Shootout that will be held eight days earlier.

“We are cautiously optimistic we will be racing at Daytona,” Bodine said. “We have the sponsorship. We’ll be all right. The wheels are in motion and hopefully soon we will be making some announcement.”

Prior to 2011, Bodine had made just one Cup start since 2004. Bodine said he has sponsorship for a minimum of 15 Sprint Cup races from Luke & Associates, a Florida-based healthcare provider to the U.S. military. He and Luke & Associates had hoped to hook up with a team before the end of the year, with the sponsor also seeking an ownership role.

Racing Trivia Question: Who won the 1949 NASCAR championship, which was the first for the fledgling organization?

Last week’s question: Richard Petty has 200 career Cup wins, the most of any driver. Who is number two? Answer. David Pearson is second with 105 wins.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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