BATTLING DEMONS & BEYOND: KURT BUSCH THE OUTLAW to Premiere on Speed, 11/15
One of NASCAR's biggest stars, Kurt Busch, opens up about his life, his struggles and his passions in SPEED's (Twitter: @SPEED) new one-hour special, Kurt Busch The Outlaw, premiering Thursday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Produced by Emmy Award-winning Zero Point Zero Production, creators of popular show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, the hour-long special takes a look at Busch's 2012 season, as well as the many dramatic instances that have led up to this moment.
Now, to fully capture the persona of Busch, you may need more than a single documentary. For example, he won his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in dramatic fashion at Homestead (Fla.) at the end of 2004. It was a heroic effort that many NASCAR fans celebrated with enormity.
But then a little more than 12 months later, he was named in the top three of GQ's 'Most Hated Athletes' for 2006. Something he noted, "Wow. This is so far from the truth."
"Whether you love him or hate him, you'll want to watch because he's just that compelling," said Jennifer Williams, executive producer of Kurt Busch The Outlaw.
Busch was on top of the world when driving one of NASCAR's most prestigious rides, Penske Racing's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Few could have successfully become the heir apparent to the Hall of Fame career of Rusty Wallace. Yet... some thought Busch may have been even better. His talent and focus is still the envy of many.
"Racing is an addiction," he said in the show. "It takes you over. It's something that you can't get rid of."
But compelling isn't always pretty.
For Busch, an unexplained and uncontrollable rage was brewing inside. His numerous radio battles with the crew and problematic eruptions toward fellow competitors didn't feel right to many. His persona slowly shifted from just being one of NASCAR's 'bad boys,' to that of something more unpredictable.
"That kind of anger will eat you up," said Busch's girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, whom plays an important role in the Las Vegas native's life, as well as in the documentary.
That anger did eventually eat him in 2011, bubbling to the surface in what was the beginning of many disturbing interactions that started following the second Richmond (Va.) International Raceway race that September.
Busch recoiled at media questioning in the aftermath of a contentious on-track battle with superstar Jimmie Johnson. His Penske Racing teammates had to separate him from NASCAR.com reporter Joe Minzer, whom Busch angrily engaged when asked about the aforementioned incident. Later that day; he quipped at AP writer Jenna Fryer, and abruptly tore up her transcript upon walking out of the post-race media session. A 'bad moon' was rising.
After a brief, yet unusually snippy and notable exchange with pit reporter Jamie Little in Loudon (N.H.) a few weeks later, all hell broke loose at the 2011 Homestead (Fla.) finale. A television ENG crew captured Busch in an expletive-laced protest against ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch's camera operator, dominating an early weekend news cycle that had been reserved for discussing one of the NASCAR's most exciting 'Chase(s) for the Championship' in recent memory.
Immense personal damage had been inflicted, and it was the last straw for Miller Lite and Penske, who terminated its relationship in early December.
Suddenly, Busch was on the outside looking in, and his career light was starting to flicker. Busch described his situation in Kurt Busch The Outlaw, "The last nine months have been a whirlwind, like the whirlwind that happens when you open the plug on the bottom of your tub and the water starts to go through. That's somewhat of what's happened to my career."
In trying to stem the tide, he grasped onto an opportunity with James Finch's under-funded Phoenix Racing organization to begin the journey back. He was thankful for the opportunity, and seemed on the road to redemption.
However, a post-race, on-track incident with Ryan Newman at the May Darlington (S.C.) Raceway race revived his troubles, creating a dramatic run-in between Busch and members of Newman's Stewart-Haas Racing crew.
It was so unsettling that Newman later told SportsIlustrated.com, "It's easy to say that Kurt blew a fuse again. I'm not sure why he did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. And nobody is. I think the chemical imbalance speaks for itself. Kurt drilled me in pit lane and said that he was taking his helmet off, and he didn't see where he was going."
The mayhem earned Busch a $50,000 fine from NASCAR, and he was placed on probation.
But that probation loomed large this past June in Dover (Del.), when cameras caught Busch berating Sporting News NASCAR writer Bob Pockrass after being asked a question following an early race, on-track Nationwide Series run-in with driver Justin Allgaier.
"I had just gone through this full race, (with) this (competition) in my windshield, communicating with the team, working it the best that I could, muscling a fourth-place finish out of it, and he (Pockrass) hands me this bull---- question (about) being on probation and racing Allgaier differently," Busch said in the documentary. "Which, the Allgaier thing happened 200 laps ago. It happened on lap one. The first thing that comes out of my mouth is just, 'blah,' it came out of my mouth, 'I need to kick your ass.'
"After I got off of pit road, I told Rick Ren the team manager for Kyle (Kyle Busch Motorsports), 'I think something serious is going to happen. I think I just screwed up completely.'"
Busch was immediately suspended, and team owner James Finch hedged his bets towards any future commitments, citing additional internal turmoil as well.
"It's funny, they (NASCAR) benched me for a week, and they all were sitting in there, 'Kurt, we don't want to suspend you, but you put us in a box and the media is going to rip us apart if we don't suspend you. How does that make you feel?" he asked.
Before the incident, Busch had felt his career was on an upward ascension. That moment unceremoniously pushed it back down.
"So is it good impressions; or is it bad impressions, that get your name in the news?" Busch said. "Unfortunately it's bad; it's all that people see. I can have my Hall of Fame speech 30 years from now, and if there's a two-minute video, it's going to be a minute-fifty on all the s--- I did wrong. And it's going to be 10 seconds of, 'oh yeah, by the way, he can drive.'
"I'm done fighting the battle," Busch continued. "My image is what it is. It's who they say that I am. I've lived two lives it seems like the last, call it, three years. Whatever they write is whatever they write. I'm done fighting the battle."
Could his suspension have been the turning point?
"Being forced to sit away, it is the moment of, (Am) I going to continue to fight this battle? Or should I just walk away?"
He still fights to move forward however, slowly, but surely, as his passion for racing outweighs the challenges. "The suspension really taught me, to take a step back and go; this is that moment of, 'you can't keep screwing up.' You know, treat the media with respect, and maybe they'll start getting off of you."
With limited success at Phoenix Racing, despite a rousing, emotional third-place effort at Sonoma (Calif.) that moved both Busch to tears and media applause, Busch moved onto Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing starting in October. A ride he's taking with him into 2013.
"Beyond the tarnished image, this is a team that wants a racer behind the wheel because they are worried about performance," said Busch, in Kurt Busch The Outlaw. "This is like a brand new partnership of 'Boom! We're on the same page. Let's do this together.' With (team owner Barney Visser) it's, 'you drive, I want to see my stuff go fast.'"
And in his first race with FNR at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month, he took home a top-10 finish. "Go
d gave me a talent to drive race cars," Busch said. "There have been times when I've abused that privilege, but the good get back up, they dust themselves off and they keep going."
Prior to Kurt Busch The Outlaw at 7 p.m. ET, a new episode of Inside Michael Waltrip Racing, takes a deeper look at the dramatic incident and aftermath between MWR driver Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon from Phoenix.