DAYTONA, Fl. — Richard Petty said the reason Kurt Busch wasn’t hired to drive his No. 43 was personality.
“Nobody at the time wanted to pay the bill for him,” said Petty. “That’s how simple it was. Everybody has to protect their brand. Smithfield Farms has a pretty laid back, pretty good down-home persona in the general public. If they had taken him on it would have changed their … they just didn’t like the personality.”
Busch, who was released from Penske Racing after a disastrous 2011 season that led the 2004 Cup champion to seek professional help for anger issues, ultimately signed with Phoenix Racing.
Petty said Smithfield Foods, which he introduced Thursday as a primary sponsor for the No. 43, was among those that wouldn’t come on board if Busch was involved. Petty said Best Buy, which left the No. 43 to join Roush Fenway Racing as a sponsor, had the same concern.
Despite his anger and rebellious attitude, Busch can handle a race car and he showed it this past week during preseason testing. He had the fastest time of any driver. His top speed of 206.058 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile track was the best lap turned by any driver.
In between talking about how much fun he’s having “old school” racing and how he needs to learn how to handle adversity better, Busch let it be known that he’s focused on 2013.
“Yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself,” Busch said at Daytona. “But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need. And all along we’re going to keep our eyes on the prize in 2013.”
According to Busch, he could have several quality options. He said he talked to a number of team owners about 2012, including Richard Childress, Michael Waltrip and Richard Petty.
“It was weird to hear his (Richard Petty’s) comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road,” Busch continued. “But the contracts just didn’t align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with [James] Finch, made the deal happen.”
Busch and his Phoenix Racing team have picked up one sponsor, TAG Heuer Eyewear. They will be the primary sponsor on the No. 51 Chevrolet for the Feb. 18 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, where Busch is the defending winner. Additionally, they will serve as an associate sponsor on the No. 51 Chevrolet during the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 and again on March 11 for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s hometown track.
Listening to Busch, it’s clear his plan is to be with Finch — a single-car owner who gets support from Hendrick Motorsports — for only one year. Then it’s on to bigger and better things. But to get that opportunity, Busch realizes he has to change. Busch said he plans to use 2012 as a platform to reintroduce himself to sponsors — to get in front of as many of them as possible and show them that he’s more than just a hothead.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things go between Busch, Finch and the rest of the NASCAR nation.