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Roger Penske's Message

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Penske delivered the message that respect is a requirement. Photo: Getty Images

Roger Penske's message was clear and decisive.  It brought down the hammer on a long-time driver and set a moral standard that is far too often neglected in sports.

Kurt Busch had driven for Penske since 2006, and the former Sprint Cup champion made three Chases behind the wheel for Penske's team.  However, after Busch melted down late in the season and was fined by NASCAR for his antics, Penske made a move that made the most sense for his organization.

He parted ways with Kurt Busch.

To be fair, the decision stated that the two parties separated ways on mutual terms, but I have a hard time believing it wasn't something that was spearheaded by Penske's side.  Perhaps Busch was disgruntled and looking for a way out, but no matter what line of work you're in, you're probably not going to just up and quit without a contingency plan (as is Busch's case).

The decision leaves questions about who might fill the ride at a Penske team that already fielded only two cars.

It also leaves questions about where Busch will end up, as most of the big moves (Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motosporrts, Clint Bowyer to Michael Waltrip Racing) have already taken place.

The area where there's no question is what Roger Penske and his race team believes in.  There is a demand for a level of respect, and Busch didn't have that.  This wasn't just one incident from the former driver of the No. 22.  It was a series of incidents that didn't represent the organization well.

Keep in mind that another one of Penske's drivers, INDYCAR star Will Power, flipped the double-bird to race control during a race here at NHMS in August.  That was an isolated incident where the usually jovial Power lost his cool.  He still drives for Penkse.  Busch does not.

Today's sports world is so public that everything a driver says or does shapes his public image.  Throughout the year, Busch was heard yelling over the radio at crew chief Steve Addington and his team that he didn't like his car, even as he was racing well.  He was also overheard responding to Penske on the radio with the condescending term "dude."

Really!?  Since when has NASCAR been racing at Waikiki, Kurt?

As the Chase approached, he locked horns with Jimmie Johnson.  After getting into an argument with one NASCAR beat writer over his comments on Johnson, he engaged her after the press conference to rip up the transcript she showed him of his quote.

The biggest meltdown came in the season's final race at Homestead-Miami.  After his car malfunctioned early and headed to garage, he found himself blocked from his stall by Michelle Obama's SUV convoy.  While I do believe Busch that he wasn't flipping off anyone in particular, he give the universal symbol to the cars to get out of the way.  Then, while he waited for his car to be fixed, he started cursing at ESPN's Jerry Punch before an interview, a tirade that was caught by a fan on camera and distributed across the internet.  He was fined $50,000 by NASCAR for his actions and his sponsor, Shell-Pennzoil, was not happy in the least.

As if that wasn't enough, crew chief Addington got the heck out of Dodge, literally and figuratively, as soon as he could when he was offered the same position with Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

We've all seen Stewart a lot lately.  He's very competitive and very demanding, albeit usually in a respectful manner.  The fact Addington would so quickly shoulder the responsibility of defending a Cup amidst questions if he was good enough to be a championship crew chief says a lot about his relationship (or lack thereof) with Busch.

Penske was quick to say that enough was enough.  It's a refreshing mentality in today's sports world.

Too often, athletes are given chance after chance to prove themselves after character failure.  NFL players Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress' extended trips to prison seem to be a rarity among sports figures, and even after they were released, they were immediately employed.  These kinds of thing doesn't happen in the real world, nor in Penske's world.

Here at NHMS, I wouldn't walk around berating my co-workers, so the rest of the office could hear me yelling down the hall.  If I disagreed with our Exec. VP/GM, Jerry Gappens, on an opinion, I wouldn't end a conversation with "whatever, dude."  I wouldn't walk out on to Route-106 and give the fans a one-finger salute for visiting.  And, I wouldn't start swearing at a media member trying to cover one of our events.

I'm sure you can think of similar situations in your workplace as well, and I'm sure you can agree that it's unprofessional and disrespectful to act in such a manner at any time.  That's what Penske saw and that's why he acted.

Kurt Busch learned the lesson that us "normal" people already know.  You shouldn't ever take your job for granted, and you should be appreciative and respectful for every day that you get to go do something you enjoy.  Busch didn't show this and now he's floundering around, hoping that someone will pick him up for a full-time ride in 2012.

Without naming names, as I'm sure you can fill some in for me, there are other drivers out there that should learn from this lesson before the same happens to them.  In today's entitled-athlete world, there are many drivers that don't seem to give enough respect to the team, the competition, the media or the fans.

It's a privilege, not a right to be in as great of a position as these NASCAR drivers.  Roger Penske reminded Kurt Busch of that and I hope the rest of the owners keep his actions in mind when dealing with chronic misbehavior.

The moral lesson is that fostering a positive image and showing respect for one's position is far more important than the success and accomplishment of that person.  That's something we all should remember, especially this holiday time of year, when we're fortunate enough to be able to put food on our table and a roof over our head.