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Will sponsors park Kyle Busch? After a big debate in Joe Gibbs' office, finally an announcement Thursday night, by Gibbs and Mars

  Kyle Busch, here in victory lane earlier this year at Phoenix, is one of NASCAR's biggest Nationwide stars, and the 2009 series champion. But he's in trouble for that Texas Motor Speedway road rage incident. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   (Updated Twice)

   By Mike Mulhern


   What the heck can can go wrong next for Joe Gibbs?
   It's been a pretty bad season overall for Gibbs Toyota operation. And Thursday Kyle Busch's future this season appears up for debate at Joe Gibbs' office, with a report that one of Busch's Nationwide sponsors, Z-Line Designs, is pushing Gibbs to put another driver, perhaps teammate Denny Hamlin, in the car for the rest of the season.

   Z-Line Designs is one of the country's major importers of furniture.
   Joe Gibbs and his men remained silent most of the week over what Gibbs might do with Busch. While Busch has been cleared by NASCAR to run in Saturday's Nationwide race here, he was not entered in that event.
   Busch himself has also been silent since NASCAR's latest penalties. But Busch is scheduled to address the issues Friday morning at this track.

   Update (Thursday night):
   Gibbs finally announced his plans for Busch for the final days of the season in a brief statement released Thursday evening:
   "Today Mars Incorporated, primary sponsor of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry, removed Kyle Busch from driving the M&M's car for the remaining two races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The decision was a result of the incident during last Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
    "The car will not run with an M&M's paint scheme until 2012, at which time Kyle Busch will be the driver, with the expectation that no future incident takes place.
   "We strongly support Mars' decision," said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. "This gives us all time to work together to foster a positive change where Kyle can continue racing in a way we can all be proud of."
    "Interstate Batteries, a partner of Joe Gibbs Racing since the team’s inception 20 years ago, will be featured on the No. 18 Toyota Camry driven by Busch for the final two races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season."

   A further update (Thursday night):
   Debra A. Sandler, chief consumer officer for privately-owned Mars, also issued a short statement: "As a proud member of the racing community, Mars and the M&M's brand strongly support the partnership we have with Joe Gibbs Racing and are committed to NASCAR.  Yet Kyle's recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars.
    "While we do not condone Kyle's recent actions, we do believe that he has shown remorse and has expressed a desire to change. We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win."

   The latest chapter in the Busch saga this year came one week ago at Texas Motor Speedway, early in the Truck race, when Busch crashed Ron Hornaday, taking Hornaday out of championship contention. NASCAR parked him for the rest of the weekend, and has now fined him $50,000 and put him on probation for the last two race weekends of the season, here at Phoenix International Raceway and next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
   What Gibbs himself does now is still apparently up in the air. Major Sprint Cup sponsor Mars/M&Ms issued a statement that it was not at all pleased with Busch's actions. It is not yet clear if Mars and Gibbs will go further in punishing Busch, who has had several incidents this season: that 128 mph speeding ticket and loss of his street license, an altercation with rival team owner Richard Childress, and an altercation with rival driver Kevin Harvick.
   It only serves to put the spotlight on Joe Gibbs' entire racing operation. For one thing, Busch has been Gibbs' only really successful driver this season; teammate Joey Logano is struggling, and so is teammate Hamlin.

   For want of just another gallon or two of gas here in the waning moments exactly one year ago, Hamlin might be returning this dusty desert track as NASCAR's defending Sprint Cup champion.
   And, if so, then 2011 might have gone much differently.
   Last year, right up till the final miles at Phoenix International Raceway, Hamlin was on top of the stock car racing world, on the verge of knocking off Jimmie Johnson for the sport's title.
   Alas, that Phoenix 500 didn't go quite as well as Hamlin had hoped. His end-game here foiled, Hamlin went to the Homestead finale clearly off his game, and then spun out there in the opening miles, giving the championship away.
    And this season?
    Well, it's been pretty much a downer all the way around for Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford.
    In fact, given the continued lackluster runs by Logano and the continuing controversies dogging Busch, plus those engine room shakeups, the entire Joe Gibbs operation would well like to just write this season off and head for Daytona.
     Teams of course will be heading to Daytona next week – a late-scheduled test to try to find some answers to those two-car drafts that NASCAR executives don't seem to like at the sport's two biggest ovals. What if anyone may come out of next Tuesday's Daytona test is unclear. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been pushing for just such a test all season.
     NASCAR will likely try cutting the Daytona rear spoilers by about an inch or so, to take away rear grip. That would likely speed up the cars, naturally, with less drag. But it's unclear if NASCAR will cut engine horsepower to compensate, or increase engine horsepower.
     But at the moment the test that most stock car drivers are sweating out is the one they've already run – here two months ago, on the new asphalt.
     While their public comments are generally positive about the repave, drivers almost to a man are very worried about what this weekend may bring here.
     Hamlin says the redesign here will make this "a fun track. 
     "Driving it was like 'Wow! This is a lot different than any other course we've ever been on, with the elevation changes. 
     "I think it will take it a while for it to be a racy track, in the sense of two-wide or three-wide racing.  I think that's years and years down the road."
     But exciting, well, most drivers expect that, and probably right from the start.
     "We've seen hard tires and new asphalt makes for treacherous racing," Hamlin predicts. "You could be caught up in an accident pretty easy on a restart."s

     However the bigger question for Hamlin and his teammates at the moment is this: will 2012 be any better than 2011?
     Hamlin is optimistic: "I think our cars will get better.  I think they already are getting better. 
     "In my opinion Fords are a leg up on everyone quite a bit.  All of their cars are extremely strong, and I think they have an advantage right now.
     "But if something happens in those two months (December and January)…when there's no racing, teams find things, and other teams lose things. 
      "I just did three days worth of testing at different tracks, trying to work on our program.
      "I am very happy with the direction we are heading; we have improved our position in every chase race. That's easy when we've sucked as bad as the first three races ( 31st, 29th, and 18th). But two races in (Charlotte and Talladega) we were better.
      "It has not been a good chase for us, and I know next year we're going to have better cars."

    For Logano, well the season hasn't been an absolute disaster, but it's been far off what anyone on that team expected. He's had only one top-10 since Indianapolis in July; he blew an engine at Texas, and he got crashed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville….
    Since Labor Day Logano has averaged woeful 30th-place finishes.
    Here, well it may be better to be lucky than good, as odd as this track may shape up for the 312 miles (500K).
   "The biggest thing you could feel different was the speed you carry down the backstraight," Logano says.
    "The track really opens up coming off turn two, and you carry a ton of speed off the corner.
    "It will be a challenge for everyone."

    Especially Busch, if he indeed still gets to keep racing this season.
    NASCAR has not only put him on 'probation,' it added the admonition it could levy a full suspension if he acts up again.
   NASCAR's harsh reaction to the Busch-Hornaday Texas incident contrasts sharply with the sanctioning body's slap on the wrist for a potentially more devastating incident at Atlanta last year, involving Edwards and Keselowski. And the NASCAR action in the latest Busch controversy may leave drivers just as unclear about the line that can't be crossed in NASCAR's 'Boys, have at it' mandate.

   Will this NASCAR action, plus the fact that there's little on the line for anyone here except Stewart and Edwards, effectively take Busch out Sunday's game even if he's at the wheel?
   Remains to be seen.
   Busch himself is still trying to figure out what went wrong in this year's title run. He appeared to play it cautiously the first several races, but by the time he started stepping it up, it was too late to catch up.
    "All of them have been a problem," Busch says of the playoff races.
    "It's a matter of being able to put it all together when it most matters, and some teams are better at it than others.   Obviously we haven't quite been able to get it all to go our way. 
    "We've run really, really well, and if we could just take our average running position throughout the chase, I think we'd be leading the points.
   "But it doesn't matter where you run, it matters where you finish."
   But then you can't finish if you can't even start.
   Stay tuned.


Kyle Busch

Just as Kyle is responsible for his actions, so should the sponsors.

We just cancelled ordering zline desks for the studio and are going to get rid of our coffee maker and coffee owned by MARS.
It's only a couple thousand dollars per year, but in this economy every dollar counts.

What is the world of racing

What is the world of racing coming to when the sponsor steps in a demands that a driver not drive in a race, and owner bows down before them. Joe Gibbs, how about growing a set and tell them to stick their M&M's where they don't fit so well. Can you imagine Goodwrench sitting Dale Earnhardt for wrecking Terry Labonte at Bristol? How about Purolator sitting Pearson for wrecking Petty at Daytona? Or Miller when Rusty Wallace wrecked Jeff Gordon at Richmond? This is historical hypocrisy, and it's overreaction at it's worst.

No Balls

It's too bad M&M's and Gibbs racing didn't sit Kyle down for one more. He deserves it, he EARNED it. I would not want to share the track, going 180mph, with a man who's lack of personal control is this bad. He thinks he's gotten away with one.

Nascar had certainly better disallow him entry into the final truck race, as more than just Hornaday would be in danger. I kept waiting for Kyle to cool down, but he stayed on Hornaday's bumper...and when he went to the right rear, I said, "He's gonna kill him!" Hornaday walked away thanks to the safety equipment and providence; Kyle tried everything to take Ron's life. If Kyle would have backed-off at any point in the melee, he,himself, would have driven off unscathed.

I truly believe that Kyle needs a life lesson, not just penalties and clucks-of-the-tongue. He tried to kill a man for an accident that he, himself, was partly to blame for. Yes, it was a racing deal, but that just means, somebody shoulda done something, but nobody did because it was racing.

I was truly scared for Ron Hornaday, with as much anxiety as waiting for Keselowski, Michael McDowell, or Ryan Newman to get out of their cars. Kyle is what he is. People don't, in the main, change their style...they may for a while, but eventually, they fall back to what works for them...and Kyle, barring a career-ending accident of his own, or finally getting that maturity he's been showing around and forgetting to wear while on the track, is gonna actually KILL somebody and there will enuf blame to go around for everybody.

Is that you Mike Helton?

Is that you Mike Helton? This must be some of the same nonsense that runs through the heads of the people that run NASCAR. Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers wreck each other, admitted to it on national TV, and they got NO punishment. If the penalty for everyone else who got some payback was a suspension, or worse, Kyle's penalty would have been justified. Nobody else who has doled out payback this year has gotten any punishment anywhere close to what Busch got, so where were these outcries when those intentional wrecks were being issued? Where was your outrage when Carl Edwards nearly put Keselowski in the seats at Atlanta last year? When it's a driver people dislike, they want the penalties to be much more severe than when their favorite driver does the exact same thing.


How about a sponsor who allows Kyle to drive? Should they be exempt from criticism? Interstate Batteries is on Kyle's hood... I left a message on their facebook page saying. 'So, you're OK with a madman driving your vehicle? I'll remember that when driving next to your trucks on the Interstate' Kyle shouldn't be driving. Period.

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