Reutimann to replace Kurt Busch at Pocono
CHARLOTTE — David Reutimann will replace suspended driver Kurt Busch at Pocono Raceway, but Busch's future with Phoenix Racing appears murky, at best.
Busch was suspended by NASCAR on Monday for verbally abusing a reporter following the Nationwide Series race at Dover. NASCAR said his behavior was in violation of the probation Busch was placed on last month, and he's not eligible to return to a NASCAR-sanctioned event until June 13.
Tommy Baldwin Racing will let Reutimann drive Busch's No. 51 Chevrolet on Sunday at Pocono. There is no Nationwide Series race this weekend, so Busch was not scheduled to drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports, his younger brother's race team.
It's assumed he'll be back with both Phoenix and KBM after his suspension is lifted, but Phoenix owner James Finch said Tuesday their partnership will be on a race-by-race basis going forward.
"Here's the deal: Quit wrecking the cars, get a good finish, be nice to people. That's not real hard to do," Finch told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday. "It's affecting me. If I can't get a sponsor, I can't keep running without a sponsor. That's a slow death. I don't want to do that."
Finch said Busch has wrecked 14 cars so far this season, and at least three of them were beyond repair. With limited sponsorship money, and Busch's behavior interfering with the potential to land funding, Finch said something has to give.
"Hopefully if we can get Kurt's mind right, we can win some races," he said. "If we can't get his mind right so we can race into the future, then I'll go do something else. It's just that simple. I'm doing my part. We've wrecked 14 cars this year. Four at Daytona. We've killed three or four cars and had to completely throw them away."
Busch's latest penalty stems from a confrontation with a Sporting News reporter after Saturday's race. Contact on the track with Justin Allgaier led to a discussion on pit road after the race, and Busch was asked if being on probation impacted the way he raced Allgaier.
"It refrains me from not beating the (expletive) out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions. But since I'm on probation, I suppose that's improper to say as well," Busch replied.
The exchange was captured on video.
Busch apologized in a statement Monday night for his behavior and said he accepts NASCAR's decision. "I put them in a box, they had to take action and it's my fault for putting them in this position."
It's just the latest in a series of ugly incidents for Busch, who lost his job with Penske Racing at the end of the season because of his behavior. He had a rage-filled rant on his team radio last year that drew widespread attention, sparred with two reporters in September at Richmond, and then was caught on video by a fan verbally abusing an ESPN reporter during the season finale. The video was posted on YouTube, Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR after it went public, and his split by "mutual agreement" with Penske came shortly after.
He then signed with Finch, and has said driving for the underfunded team would help him "put the fun back into racing for me."
It's been trying, though, and Busch has had a handful of bumps in the road. Last month, he was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation through July 25 for reckless driving on pit road, and a post-race altercation with Ryan Newman's crew members.
That probation has now been extended through the end of the year.
His issues come when Busch is trying to line up a top-level ride for next season. He's believed to have had discussions with Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. But the more attention he gets for off-track issues, the harder it is for a team owner to sell Busch to a sponsor.