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Kurt Busch's Richmond meltdown leads to shakeup at Penske's

 Kurt Busch, here with crew chief Steve Addington, has been saying a lot lately. Now people are listening (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Kurt Busch's oh-so-public radio meltdown during the Richmond 400 seems to have triggered some big changes at Roger Penske's.
   Busch says things have been changing "behind the scenes," though he declined to offer specifics.

   But he concedes his radio outburst, during his frustrating run Saturday, probably wasn't the best way to make his points.
   Busch has had problems this season, though he was very fast in practice here Friday for Saturday night's Southern 500. Unfortunately he blew a tire "and went straight into the fence," and will be in a backup for the 500.
   "It's been a productive week," Busch says. "There's been a lot of movement behind the scenes, with restructuring and moving some things around…and getting an indication of some of what the real issues are. Instead of just talking about it, we're reacting to it.


The Captain, Roger Penske, in Brazil last week, missed Kurt Busch's radio tirade. But when he returned, and checked things out, things quickly began to change. Now can Busch make the best of the new arrangements? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   "So this has been a tough day. We had a good plan coming in here, to go out early and punch a good lap, and we were third-quick overall. And if qualifying got rained out, we'd be third on the grid.
   "Darlington has been an unusual track for me over the years. I still remember that great finish with Ricky Craven (2003); and if I keep telling that story, maybe I'll have a chance of winning that one day.
   "And we finished fifth here last year."
    This season opened with brilliant work at Daytona, Busch winning the Bud Shootout and his 150-mile Daytona 500 qualifier.
   And as recently as Bristol he was atop the Sprint Cup standings.
   However that's in spite of a run of hard luck.
   In fact Busch's hard luck continued earlier this week during tire testing at Indianapolis, when he blew an engine two hours into the test.
   "Just all kinds of shots we've been taking, left and right," Busch said with a rueful laugh.


Kurt Busch blew a tire and slapped the Darlington wall early Friday. He was third fastest in early practice. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Busch declined to elaborate on the internal changes. But he says "I feel we've made great adjustments with what we've done internally And that's in how to build a better car.
    "Everybody is listening, and there's been great feedback.
   "Yes, last Saturday night wasn't the best forum. That wasn't the right spot.
   "But in my mind we've been deteriorating…and I've held it in and held it in.
   "But now with people listening, I think we'll be making great strides."
   Busch is part of what is now a two-car team, with up-and-coming Brad Keselowski as teammate. And with only independent Robby Gordon also on the Dodge roster, Busch and Penske might be at something of a disadvantage compared to the teams affiliated with the other three auto makers.
   Keselowski has also been mired in something of a slump this season; his best finish is a 15th at Phoenix, and he's been generally uncompetitive.
   "We need Brad Keselowski up there too," Busch says. "We need the cars more competitive, and I think we know that."
   So why has Penske let his NASCAR operation deteriorate to this point?
   "Roger has always had an open door, he's always open to listening," Busch said of the boss, expected here Saturday.
   "But things just happen slowly sometimes.
   "But when you're in the driver's seat you can see how fast things go, and where you're struggling. And if there is a common theme, and yet you're knocking on the same door and nothing's happening….then there are issues.
   "We've got to make sure egos get set aside.
   "I feel we've got a great forum now, with the way things have been opened up this week. Things aren't just being pushed under the rug.
   "We know we can be a better team, and communication is what does that."
   Has Busch been carrying this car?
   He wouldn't go that far.
   But certainly to outsider observers Busch has made a lot more with what he's had to work with.
   "I want to win. I don't want to finish 15th, or 22nd like Saturday," Busch said with emotion.
   "We won the All-star race and the 600 last May. But then starting in July we started to struggle. We had a new chassis design, and I voiced my opinion, that I felt we'd missed it on the new chassis.
   "We didn't run in the top-15 in those races.
  "We haven't run in the top-15 in quite some time. And when you see the writing on the wall, you can start to talk about it."
   Still Busch is a solid sixth in the Sprint Cup standings, and just six weeks ago he was atop the points.
   "We're sixth in points because we haven't finished worse than 22nd ," Busch said. "I've managed to dodge wrecks and bounce off walls and missed the setup but still wound up with a salvageable finish.
   "But when you're leading the points six weeks ago, and now down to sixth…
   "Things have been talked about with Roger, and all the top people are involved. There's no restricting with the way people are in positions, but this weekend I've seen four engineers at the track that I haven't seen at the track ever."

    Kurt Busch: When Kurt isn't happy, he lets people know it. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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