How exactly do you go from a rageaholic hell-bent on destruction to a well-respected veteran of the NASCAR Cup Series garage? While everyone would probably venture down that road differently, Kurt Busch's journey was particularly exciting. Maybe that was due to all the trouble he got into over the years, or just the fact that he eventually got help for his anger, but it is a true redemption story.
Believe it or not, Busch started the 2001 season in an unsponsored Ford and only signed a multiyear deal with Rubbermaid later in the season. Interestingly enough, he hit the ground running in his first start that season at Daytona International Speedway, where he ran into Dale Earnhardt on lap 85 and was flipped the bird by the intimidator.
The rest of Busch's season wasn't nearly as eventful, and Busch ended up with a career-best finish of third at Talladega Super Speedway. He did manage to lead about 34 laps at Martinsville before contact with Ricky Rudd, and a cut tire pretty much ruined his day. Fortunately for Busch, 2002 ended up being his breakout year and where he would claim his first Cup Series victory.
With that being said, the first victory didn't come without its controversies as Busch delivered a bump and run to NASCAR veteran, Jimmy Spencer, to move him out of the way and win at Bristol. Spencer vowed revenge on Busch for the move and intentionally wrecked him later that year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ending Busch's day prematurely.
Busch wasn't happy with this, though, and climbed out of his car under caution while waiting on paramedics to confront Spencer. When Spender's car passed by during pace laps, Busch jumped towards the car and pointed at him shouting. Busch would later go on to call Spencer a crippled old has-been in a post-race interview, probably one of the vilest things ever said in NASCAR.
This wouldn't be the end of things, however, as Busch and Spencer would clash yet again at the 2003 Michigan race, where the two would run into each other on the track. Of course, this made both drivers livid, and Spencer would come over to have words with Busch after the race. Unfortunately for Busch, this escalated into Spencer punching Busch in his car, which resulted in Busch having to go to the hospital for a bloody nose and a dental injury.
That would mark the end of the feud for the two drivers, especially after Spencer was parked for a week, fined a hefty amount of money and threatened by local authorities, but it was a nice rivalry while it lasted. Unfortunately for Busch, this wasn't the only feud he got into that year as he also had a run-in with Robby Gorden at the Winston.
The trouble started when Busch got into Gordon with only a handful of laps to go, resulting in him hitting the wall. Busch later admitted he did it to put on a good show for the fans, which forced NASCAR to fine him 10,000 dollars. This might seem like small potatoes to a lot of readers right now, and some might even be thinking that it was for the fans, but it was just the start of Busch's reckless driving.
Fast-forward to 2007, and Busch was entangled in a feud with former Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart. The two had run-ins before, but nothing seemed as bad as their exchange at Dover. The incident started when the two ran into each other on the track, and Kurt Busch made sure to show Stewart that he wasn't happy about it.
Busch did this by pulling next to Tony Stewart's pit stall during a stop, forcing a crew member from Stewart's team to slide across the hood of the car. This ended up being one of Busch's worse incidents and one of the most unsafe moments in NASCAR history.
That would be followed up next season, though, as the two would clash again in a practice session at Daytona International Speedway. The two yet again ran into each other on the track, which resulted in massive damage to both cars. Busch responded to this by bumping into Stewart's car on pit road three times before trying to pass him. Stewart didn't take that kindly and blocked his path to the garage.
Believe it or not, this was Busch's last encounter for a decent period of time, and he was able to stay relatively clean for a while. He may have had a few feuds here and there, but it was nothing compared to what he would do in 2011. This would be the year that Busch would start going on radio tirades to his team and blaming them for his lack of success.
One incident included Busch going on a profanity-laced tirade and blaming team manager, Tom German, for their poor performance at Richmond Raceway. These rants would eventually get worse and worse with NASCAR releasing a not safe for work version of their radio scanner for Busch each week. It was shocking and a little disturbing with how angry Busch would get.
This would be a tough year for Busch, as he would get into a feud with five-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, continue to trash talk his own team, rip up transcripts, walk out of a media room, and flip off the President of The United States. His actions were enough to earn him walking papers from Roger Penske, who said he was officially done being Busch's professional apologist.'
Busch also was caught berating female reporter Jamie Little during a preface interview. He also had an incident where he had to be restrained by crew members after an interview. The question was as simple as do you think you or Jimmie Johnson would win the championship, which resulted in Busch cussing him out and going after the interviewer.
This all was a sort of rock bottom for Busch, and he admitted that he was going to see a sports psychologist in order to reach a better place in his life. As for his racing career, though, he landed at Phoenix Racing, which was known as a start and park team at the time. This meant that the team wasn't competitive in any capacity, and Busch would have to work hard for decent finishes.
Busch still ran into trouble in his next season, starting with a run-in with Ryan Newman at Darlington Raceway. It started when the two collided and caused a massive wreck, which resulted in Busch's tire going down. Busch only made things worse after that by doing a burn out next to Newman's pit stall during a stop and later followed that up by bumping Newman's car after the race.
Busch would later go on to say that this was an accident and just a result of him having his helmet off, but some still found the move intentional. Furthermore, Busch's actions were disastrously unsafe, especially since pit crew members and safety personnel were in Newman's stall at the time of the burnout, which just seemed reckless.
He received a 50,000 dollar fine and probation for this. Later on in the season, Busch had an incident with Justin Allgaier during an Xfinity Series race, which he was asked about after the race. Although Busch could have taken the high road and not mentioned it, he decided to tell the reporter that being on probation was the only thing preventing him from beating the crap out of him.
NASCAR took this threat very seriously and decided to force Busch to sit out an upcoming tire test and the next race at Pocono Raceway.
Interestingly enough, Busch signed a multiyear deal with Furniture Row Racing at this point and was set to leave his team at Phoenix Racing in the middle of the season. He didn't leave Phoenix Racing empty-handed though, as he had one final tirade at Talladega Super Speedway. First, he was wrecked while leading by Jamie McMurray.
The wreck was an accident but pissed off Kurt Busch. He responded by getting out of his car and checking to see if it still had any gas. The racecar ultimately did, which resulted in him jumping back in his car while medics were attending to his car. Busch wasn't supposed to leave the accident scene though and was parked by NASCAR for his actions.
And then it finally happened. In 2015 Busch was about to embark on his 15th season as a Cup Series driver when he was hit with what can only be described as his worst incident to date
Busch was accused of a domestic violence incident, and reports indicated that he attacked his then-girlfriend, Patricia Driscroll. Busch was not charged with anything, and the allegations appeared to be fake, but he was forced to complete sensitivity training for the incident. He was finally cleared to compete again and reinstated after three races.
The former Cup Series champion went on to win two races that year and qualified for the playoffs. As for his ex-girlfriend, she was labeled a liar by the media for falsifying reports of the attack and was even being investigated for running a fake charity. This seemed to be Busch's wakeup call, though, and his temper finally subsided to a degree.
Of course, it took years of turmoil, multiple incidents with NASCAR personal, a domestic abuse scandal, and some of the worst sportsmanship in history, but Busch turned a corner that year. He went on to become one of the most respected, clean, and responsible drivers in the entire sport.