Roush Racing announced this morning that Kurt Busch has been suspended for the final two races of the season after an incident Friday evening involving law enforcement officials. Kenny Wallace will drive the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus in today's...
Roush Racing announced this morning that Kurt Busch has been suspended for the final two races of the season after an incident Friday evening involving law enforcement officials. Kenny Wallace will drive the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus in today's Checker Auto Parts 500.
GEOFF SMITH, President, Roush Racing
"Roush Racing has elected to suspend Kurt Busch from driving for the remainder of the season. We took this action following an evaluation of all the circumstances following Kurt's Friday night altercation with the Arizona Sheriff's office, and after consultation and review of all the circumstances with our sponsors -- Newell Rubbermaid and Diageo -- they're fully in support of the action that we've decided to take."
IS THIS SORT OF THE LAST STRAW WITH KURT BUSCH?
"Well, it's the last straw for Roush Racing. As I said, we're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."
WILL HE BE PAID DURING THE SUSPENSION?
"We haven't even taken a look at how the contract works in this regard."
THE REASON BEING HE HASN'T BEEN CONVICTED OF ANYTHING. DO YOU LEGALLY HAVE GROUNDS TO SUSPEND HIM?
"If it was a matter that there was a speeding ticket or a ticket standing alone, that's really not an issue of contract matter. It was the vituperative abusiveness to the office, coupled with the circumstances of our alcohol sponsorship. Regardless of whatever level of presence was there while driving, we have some very strict sponsorship rules in place, particularly when we inherited Diageo. We feel very strongly that those rules have been significantly breached."
WHEN WAS THIS DECISION MADE?
"Just a few minutes ago. We were still trying to sort out what all the options were to us this morning. You probably saw Jack scurrying around seeing whether or not another driver could fit in the seat and we could make the replacement today."
WILL KENNY RUN THE LAST TWO RACES?
"Kenny will run today's race and we expect that Todd Kluever will be our driver at Homestead."
CAN KURT RUN FOR OTHER TEAMS?
"He doesn't have the right to run for other teams without our permission, which would be extremely reluctantly granted at this point in time."
WAS THIS INITIATED BY DIAGEO OR ROUSH RACING?
"In the end we have to make a decision and get support from our sponsors. Let's just say there was participation all the way around that Roush Racing didn't want to be viewed as condoning the behavior and our sponsors certainly didn't want to be viewed as condoning the behavior either."
EVEN THOUGH THE BREATHALIZER MALFUNCTIONED, ARE YOU CONVINCED KURT HAD SOME LEVEL OF ALCOHOL IN HIS SYSTEM?
"We believe what the officer said."
DO YOU FEEL KURT'S STATEMENT THAT ALCOHOL WAS NOT INVOLVED IS A FLAT OUT LIE?
"Well, alcohol was not involved in the sense that there was no ticket issued for that. But the officer said in the preliminary breath test that he smelled alcohol on it. The problem is this is a high-profile business. There's a great burden on the athletes and on the teams in NASCAR to demonstrate that we are a cut above other sports with regard to our tolerance for misbehavior or however you want to characterize it."
WHEN WAS KURT INFORMED OF THIS DECISION?
"We did it on the phone and we told him we thought it would be in his best interest not to be around the media here for a period of time. He was outside of the race track when this was all going on. We didn't want him to walk into a maelstrom."
WERE YOU MISLED BY KURT ABOUT THE SEVERITY OF THIS?
"We were not really probing at all. Our first viewpoint was, 'I'm glad it's not our problem anymore. It's really Roger Penske's problem,' and let them go take care of it with Kurt however they wanted to take care of it. But unfortunately we had two races to go and it still became our problem as the facts revealed themselves over the course of the day yesterday. So he didn't mislead us. He didn't say anything one way or the other."
ANY ADVICE FOR PENSKE RACING ON HOW TO HANDLE KURT BUSCH?
"No, we have no advice that we think could be constructive based upon our experience."
DO YOU REGRET HIRING HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE?
"I go through life with no regrets one way or the other."
WHAT HAPPENED FROM THE TIME AFTER THE BUSCH RACE TO TODAY WHERE THIS DECISION HAD TO BE MADE?
"It changed when we started to get more pieces of information. It was very offensive to us that he chose to take on the arresting office the way he did verbally, and then the fact that there was alcohol even in the smallest way involved in the whole circumstance was another element. Believe me, I would have been much happier not talking to you guys and just riding out my next couple of weeks and go on into the sunset with Kurt."
THIS IS A VIOLATION OF THE MORALS CLAUSE?
"There is more than one provision that is invoked by this. The so-called morals clause is one."
"You call them the morals clauses, but they're broader language than that. There are requirements about how to not commit any act that has any negative influence on the race team or Jack Roush or the sponsors, plus you've got the sponsor's morality clauses."
WILL YOU WANT KURT AT THE BANQUET REPRESENTING ROUSH RACING?
"Kurt has an obligation to NASCAR as one of the top 10 chase guys to be at the banquet and accept his award for earning the chase. Underneath all of this there's no denying that there's a tremendous amount of talent there and that's what the banquet is for, really, to celebrate what the talent has achieved on the race track for the year."
KENNY WALLACE -- No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
"First of all, I'm shocked. I was doing the Speed Channel show and everybody knows that I run the NASCAR Busch Series. I ran 14th yesterday and I've got over 300 Cup starts and Jack Roush has always been a friend of mine throughout my whole career and he just called me up and said, 'Hey, can you drive the 97 car?' Once I got my composure I was like, 'Yeah, no problem.' But I feel bad for everybody in this whole situation. I'm a professional and we're just gonna go out there and race. There's nothing like starting a race cold turkey, but we've done it a lot and we'll be OK."
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DEAL WITH THIS?
"This car is a winning car. This is the car that won the last race. We're gonna race and make sure we stay on the lead lap. I need five laps to get the feel of the car and we'll just go after it. I was put in this exact same situation with Steve Park. Steve Park got in a bad accident at Darlington, I started dead last in the Pennzoil car and got up to 10th and then they had a radiator problem. We're all race car drivers. Just because I'm on my TV shows doesn't mean that this isn't what I do. I'm prepared and ready to go."
DID THEY TALK ABOUT HOMESTEAD?
"Hey, I'm like you guys. I was watching the TV show and Geoff Smith announced that he's suspended for the last two races, but I want to reiterate that Kurt Busch, to me, has never done anything to me and I don't want to burn no bridges. Kurt has his problems, so that's between Kurt and everybody at Roush Racing."
WHEN DID THEY ASK YOU TO DRIVE?
"I was on the Speed Channel stage set. Basically, that show is all about what's going on in the sport. Those guys take that show pretty serious because when they have stuff to get out, that's our job. I'm at the race track every Sunday. I got a call right away and the producer was panic-stricken. He was like, 'You've got to call John Darby. You've got to call John Darby.' I thought I was in trouble for saying something because we usually tell the truth and it gets us in trouble a little bit, so I said, 'Man, what did I do?' So I got my cell phone out and I called him and John Darby, who is the NASCAR competition director, he said, 'I've got Jack Roush right here,' and Jack Roush said, 'Hey, can you drive the 97 car today?' I was like, 'Whoa, yes. Hell yeah. By gosh.' I've always looked for opportunities like this and everytime I've been given them I'm excited about it. Everything has been developing even as I was sitting in the car, so we're ready to go now. Everything is calm and it happened just like that."
"It was maybe around 9:30. I'm sitting there doing TV and my phone vibrates as we went to break. Yeah, it's pretty wild. We see Brian Vickers do Inside Nextel Cup. I think TV is just part of our sport now and it just goes to show you that just because you do TV doesn't mean that you're not able to get back in the race car. It's some new fad. I see it happen in the NFL a lot, it just happened here."
YOU HAVE TO START IN THE BACK?
"Yeah, I have to start in the back and my goal is to just go real hard, stay on the lead lap and just get a good five laps in it. I know the setup in the car. Jimmy Fennig has been a friend of mine ever since I've been in the sport or racing -- through my ASA days in Wisconsin. He's was incredible. He's real calm. He says, 'Here's what we've got in the car, so we're ready to go.' I went up in my brother's truck and we've got a Miller helmet with tape all over it. We've got a National Guard uniform and we spread the seat out about an inch-and-a-half. I'm Kurt's same size, except I have a 42-year-old mid-section, but it doesn't slow me up."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE THE REIGNING NASCAR CHAMPION SUSPENDED FOR THE LAST TWO RACES?
"I think what happens is I've been taught you can't worry about the past, you have to worry about the future. What my concerns are now is my brother, Rusty, has been hired by Roger Penske to help Penske Racing out in the coming years -- to truly be like a Rick Mears and be a mentor. I guess there's that thing in the contract -- moral turpitude -- and now I'm kind of thinking about where Rusty and Roger Penske are gonna be. Obviously, Geoff Smith said they apologized to their sponsors, I'm sure it was driven by sponsors more than anything. Now I think the biggest question right now is, what is Miller Brewing thinking?"
HOW AWARE ARE YOU WHEN YOU'RE OUT ON THE TOWN THAT YOU HAVE A HIGHER STANDARD OF BEHAVIOR THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON?
"There are just different people. I'm like all you people. I get home for a couple days. I'm in my motorhome and I look at this whole Terrell Owens situation and I think to myself, 'I would cut one of my pinkies off,' or I would do things that most people wouldn't think to do to do what Kurt Busch has done or have the opportunity that Shane Hmiel had or to do what Terrell Owens has done, and it just amazes me what cloth those guys were cut from to react the way that they react when they don't realize what's on the line. I grew up with Rusty's sponsor, Miller Brewing, and I had Red Dog, and when you have those sponsors, no matter how much you want to party, wherever you're doing it you better not leave. You better stay in your house or wherever. I sometimes an in awe with the way people react. I don't think they know what they have, and like I just said, I would go to great lengths to have their success."
SO YOU DIDN'T HAVE ANY OF YOUR GEAR?
"No, the NASCAR Busch Series hauler left, but I do know that Rusty is just a little bit bigger than me but we've got the same genes. His ear plugs and everything fit me. We tried hard to get the Irwin uniform to fit me, but that kid is just really skinny, so it all worked out OK. Like I said, the Miller helmet, the National Guard uniform and new shoes, so we're off and running."
JACK ROUSH , Car Owner -- No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
"We have a press release forthcoming in seconds that will unfortunately explain our position as it relates to Kurt Busch and our number 97 car. We've had interviews with the police, the arresting officers from the incident that occurred the night before last, so that's all come to light. It was brought to my attention yesterday and it has come to light today as to what the scope of the problem really was for Kurt. Of course Roush Racing is embarrassed, the sponsors are embarrassed. We've all put our heads together today and decided that we would suspend Kurt now starting at this race at this time, November 13th as it was, from his contract or from his relationship with Roush Racing going forward. He received a release at his request for 2006, so this really cuts it. We certainly wish him well and hope he can overcome this and carry a better position back to the sponsor going forward that he's gonna have than what he's got for me and my people. We're embarrassed for all of the NASCAR community, to the Maricopa County Sheriff's department. I spoke to the sheriff a few moments ago. I'm going to have another telephone conversation with him within the hour, and I spoke with a lieutenant over there and I guess Kurt's got a December 22nd court date.
"He'll be back here and they'll decide what the penalty or punishment is for whatever his actions were and the consequence for that. But from where we are going forward, we felt he was far enough out of line that it was a breach of his contract with me and that put me into breach with the contracts with my sponsors, so we have to take action to alleviate the damage that was done in that relationship. We're going to have Kenny Wallace, as many of you may know, in the car here. I would have put Todd Kluever in it had I thought my way through this thing and understood that we were gonna have a problem of this consequence. He went back to Charlotte last night and very early this morning I tried to arrange transport to get him back here and that was not possible in time for the race to start. Kenny will do a nice job. He's well respected and he's well accepted within the community and among other drivers, and he's currently driving a Ford Busch Grand National car."
TODD KLUEVER WILL DRIVE NEXT WEEK?
"I'm not sure about next week. We'll see how this week works out and think about Homestead. Certainly, based on how we do here, it's Kenny Wallace's ride to lose as far as next week is concerned."
WHAT WAS THE THING THAT PUT YOU OVER THE EDGE ON MAKING THIS DECISION?
"It was really reading the language in our contract as it relates to embarrassing the team and embarrassing the people that have put money into our program. There wasn't just a sponsor. We talked with everybody that has equity in this thing and they all felt that his actions were just too much to overlook at this time."
WAS HIS VERSION OF EVENTS DIFFERENT THAN THE POLICE?
"I haven't talked to Kurt. I haven't talked to him this weekend. The first I learned of a problem was yesterday morning. I was on my way out to an appearance with Mike Helton and Jim Hunter, and they told me what had happened based on the contact they'd had with the Maricopa Sheriff's office the night before. I guess what happened was he wasn't far from the race track and they transported him to the local impound for the county sheriff's office on site here, and his father came out and they had discourse. Then Mike Helton and Jim of course new about that early yesterday morning -- much before I did -- so I hadn't really thought my way through nor had I had discussion with my sponsors throughout yesterday. In the meantime, our president, Geoff Smith, took stock of what we had and had a chance for the news to really get out of here and get back to the heartland and we figured out that we really were in an untenable situation and we had to make a move now."
ON THE POLICE REPORT.
"I haven't actually read the police report. I've read what's been written about the police report and I've had people tell me what they believe was on it. My understanding is that they believe that he had been drinking, that he had broken a number of traffic laws before he was stopped, that he did not cooperate with them on the breathalyzer test initially, and that if a test was in fact -- and there is some confusion in my mind if the test was made -- then there was an equipment failure. It was inconclusive or if it was conclusive, I don't know what the results of that were. I don't know that in fact the test was made, but the thing I've been told my more than once source is that he indicated that he would not subject himself to that test."
WAS THERE A CERTAIN FACTOR ABOUT THE INCIDENT WITH THE OFFICER THAT MADE UP YOUR MIND?
"I think belligerence with the officer was certainly a great factor in the amount of embarrassment that we all feel, not withstanding the conduct that once preceded that. He is a young man with great potential that has been realized to an extent, but he's got some challenge building relationships both in the public and in the sponsor community. He's going to need to really realize that potential going forward. I wish him well."
WAS HE COMING BACK FROM A SPONSOR FUNCTION OR DINNER?
"It was a dinner thing or some event of his own making. I'm not aware that it was anything to do with a sponsor or associated with our team."
WHAT CHANGED FROM THE END OF THE BUSCH RACE YESTERDAY TO TODAY THAT LED TO THIS DECISION?
"I got information back as the reaction the public was having and an impression back from the sponsors -- not one of the sponsors but all of the sponsors -- that they felt I was in breach of my contract by allowing that notoriety and that embarrassment to be out there without taking action. The only action I felt that would be appropriate and the one that was agreed upon was to go on and suspend him for the balance of the season."
DID THEY THREATEN TO OR COULD THEY HAVE PULLED SPONSORSHIP?
"What I'm saying is that they felt the embarrassment. I realized they were being embarrassed to an extent that I didn't realize when I spoke yesterday. The language was made clear to me on what my obligation was for these remaining two races, which wasn't clear in my mind as I made my comments off the cuff yesterday."