Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who won two races in 2011 driving for Penske Racing, has been fired by that team, the Charlotte Observer's Jim Utter reports. An official announcement is anticipated Monday. No specific driver was mentioned in Utter's report as a prime candidate for the No. 22 Dodge Busch raced to victory at Sonoma and Dover.
Busch, 33, had recently been fined by NASCAR for a profanity-laced tirade directed at longtime ESPN reporter Jerry Punch following his early exit at the season-ending Ford 400 last month. It was the latest in a long line of meltdowns for Busch, who has become a bit of a punchline in NASCAR lore for his R-Rated radio rants directed at his team, engineers, and fellow drivers. His crew chief for the past two seasons, Steve Addington, left the team after the season to the surprise of few if any who have listened to Busch's verbal abuse.
This was Busch's first season piloting a car sponsored by iconic motor oil brand Pennzoil, and the company's rich racing heritage - including multiple Indianapolis 500 wins and a 2007 Daytona 500 triumph with Kevin Harvick - did not mesh well at all with the driver's highly negative public image. It is not far-fetched to assume that Pennzoil might have demanded Busch's dismissal after a season of embarassment.
Where Busch will end up and who will take over his seat remain to be seen. Three potential cadidates, obviously, are Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, and Unadilla's David Ragan, all of whom are without rides for the 2012 season. Sam Hornish Jr., who won a Nationwide Series race at Phoenix for Penske - and claimed back-to-back IZOD IndyCar championships in 2001 and 2002 driving a Pennzoil-sponsored machine - could also pick up the seat.