Fowler

Fowler: Put the brakes on Busch

Staff WriterMay 26, 2011 

Bruton Smith called me up Wednesday morning, wanting to talk about Kyle Busch.

Smith is the Charlotte auto magnate whose Speedway Motorsports, Inc. owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and more than a half-dozen other NASCAR tracks.

Smith disagreed with my opinion that Busch should be suspended by his team owner Joe Gibbs for at least one race after the 26-year-old NASCAR driver was clocked in Iredell County doing 128 mph in a 45-mph zone on a public road Tuesday.

"Let the legal system run its course," Smith said. "That's what I'd do if he were my employee."

It's not what I would do. If I were Joe Gibbs, I would suspend Busch for a race - the Coca-Cola 600, which Smith's track hosts Sunday (and which Busch very well could win assuming he stays eligible for it).

I would want to teach Busch a lesson. I understand he didn't kill anybody, but everyone must understand that he certainly could have.

I called Gibbs on Wednesday, wanting to hear his side of things. Gibbs politely declined to comment. It's apparent that Gibbs' racing empire is taking this incident very seriously, but what's not apparent is what sort of sanctions Busch will receive.

Busch also declined my interview request through a representative, but he is supposed to talk today at 1:35 p.m. at the speedway as part of the media sessions previewing the 600.

But back to Smith - who is in his 80s (although he always says he's 39) and remains as controversial and energetic as ever. His son Marcus now runs the day-to-day operations at the speedway, but Bruton stays heavily involved.

Bruton Smith mentioned in our 20-minute conversation that the NASCAR All-Star Race format will likely be altered for 2012. The 2011 version, which was last Saturday, produced a fine crowd but a boring race that had Carl Edwards leading from wire-to-wire over the final 10 laps. Edwards also led at the end of segments No.2 and 3.

"We're going to change that format just a little bit," Smith said. "I can't tell you exactly what it is, because it's not finalized. But those 10 laps at the end may grow to 15, and we will do something to make it harder for the driver who's got the fastest car in the field to just get in front and just stay there."

That sounded like inversion - where you put the fastest cars at the back and make them wind through traffic during some of the segments. Smith said it wasn't settled for sure.

Smith also estimated that the track sold about 110,000 tickets for last Saturday night's race (there are 135,000 permanent seats at the track). He said he was hugely pleased with the crowd - although he said he expects Marcus to "sell the all-star event out" in 2012 - and loved the reviews for the world's largest HDTV in its race debut. Smith said the 600 would definitely outdraw the all-star race this weekend.

Regarding Kyle Busch - whom Smith said he hadn't talked to yet but planned to soon - Smith said to me: "I thought I'd call and rattle your cage a little bit, as the late Dale Earnhardt would have said... First of all, he (Busch) may not have been going 128 mph. Although Kyle apologized in his statement, I don't believe he admitted to actually going that fast.... I think the punishment, whatever it is, should stay in Iredell County. Let the legal system run its course, and hopefully it won't run amok."

Smith noted that Busch might be "the most talented driver we've ever had," as he wins regularly in all three of NASCAR's top series. He said that if Busch were one of his 15,000 employees that he would first have a long sit-down talk with him, as he felt sure Gibbs would do if he hasn't already. (Knowing Gibbs, it will be more than one conversation).

Added Smith: "And then I would tell him, 'Go and sin no more.' I'm sure Kyle wishes that it never happened. But in different sports, you wouldn't necessarily be suspended for something like this. Players in some stick-and-ball sports have done much worse and still played while the legal system ran its course. That's what should happen here."

I understand Smith's point of view. But I don't agree with it.

Busch has apologized for his actions Tuesday (he also apparently stated to the Iredell trooper that the fancy Lexus he was driving at 128 mph was "just a toy").

But he was recklessly endangering people's lives. He needs to be contrite, yes - and I imagine he will be at today's press conference.

But he also needs to be severely punished.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

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