Kurt Busch returnsfrom suspension on Sunday at Michigan

Posted: June 14, 2012

HE IS 27TH in the Sprint Cup standings. Driving for an underfunded team, he has no chance of making the Chase for the Championship. Still, on Sunday, he will attract as much attention as the top drivers.

Kurt Busch will be back in the No.51 Chevrolet at Michigan. After serving a suspension for Sunday's race Pocono, Busch met with Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch Tuesday.

"At the end of the day, we are racers," Finch said, "so we're going racing together with Kurt. We know adjustments have to be made, but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself. We're going to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor."

Busch, 33, was suspended by NASCAR for Pocono for verbally abusing a reporter following the Nationwide Series race at Dover, Del., June 2. Responding to a question by Bob Pockrass, of The Sporting News, about whether being on probation caused Busch to drive differently, Busch said, "It refrains me from beating the [bleep] out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions."

Busch later apologized to Pockrass, one of the most diligent reporters on the NASCAR beat.

While Busch is one of most talented racers in NASCAR, he has lost jobs with two of the top organizations in NASCAR: Roush Fenway (after winning the 2004 Sprint Cup championship) and Penske Racing. Following last season's finale, Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation for an expletive-laced tirade against ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch.

Busch also was involved in an incident last month at Darlington after he sped through Ryan Newman's pit stall. He was fined another $50,000 for that maneuver.

During the Darlington race, Busch was heard saying to his crew, "I hate my bleepin' job." I wrote then that he sounded like someone who needs time away from his job.

Television analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds, emphasizing that he is a "Kurt Busch fan," summed up the attitude of many in NASCAR when he said on a recent "NASCAR Race Hub" show on Speed: "He alone is holding his career in his hands and he is absolutely throwing it away. It makes me want to shake him and say, ‘Kurt, please take a look at what you're doing.'?"

If Busch doesn't abruptly change his ways, what he's doing is crashing his racing career. Michigan should be a comfort zone for Busch: He was fastest qualifier in last June's race and he's a two-time winner at the track.

Meanwhile, brother Kyle, 12th in points, has been plagued by engine trouble in his No.18 Toyota the past two races. Not a good time lately for the Busch brothers.

Dale Jr.: winner?

Here at NASCAR North, we rarely make predictions, but we are forecasting Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finally halt his 0-for-143 race burden and win at Michigan Sunday. We just feel it is Junior's time. His last victory, and his only W for Hendrick Motorsports, was in 2008 at Michigan.

Earnhardt is second in the standings, with 11 top-10 finishes. At Pocono, Earnhardt led the second most laps (36) before finishing eighth.

"We had a really, really good car [at Pocono],'' he said. “That was the funnest car I've had all year, and the best car I've had at Pocono in a long, long time. So, I'm just really trying not to be too upset about [eighth place] because we did a lot of good things today and we've got a lot to look forward to.

“Our team is strong. We've really been strong enough all year. I expect it to keep going."

Pocono perfecto

Pocono's first 400-mile race was exactly what we thought it would be: much more compelling than the traditional 500-milers, with a greater emphasis on strategy. Polesitter Joey Logano's outdueling his mentor, Mark Martin, for his second career win was a bonus.

With 36 drivers breaking the track qualifying record, plus the tributes to the late Dr. Joseph Mattioli, Pocono's longtime board chairman, it was one of the more memorable race weekends at the mountaintop track. A tip of the ol' restrictor plate to everyone at Pocono for a successful weekend.

China race canceled

IndyCar Series canceled its race set for Aug. 19 race in Qingdao, China, because of ongoing differences with Chinese promoters, who wanted to move the race to a different date and location. IndyCar officials they needed to make the decision to allow drivers and teams firm up plans for the second half of the season, but left open the possibility for scheduling an event in China in the future. n

Contact Bill Fleischman at fleiscb@phillynews.com.

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