June 8, 2012
By Rebecca Gladden
First, there was Watergate.
Now, in NASCAR, we have Reportergate.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch was suspended until June 13 and his probation extended until December 31 for actions following the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on June 2 at Dover International Speedway.
According to NASCAR: “Kurt Busch violated Section 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing; violation of probation; verbal abuse to a media member) of the 2012 NASCAR Rule Book. Kurt Busch had previously been placed on NASCAR probation May 15 for his actions during the May 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway. That probation was originally scheduled to end July 25 but has now been extended through the end of this year.”
Reportergate began after Saturday’s Nationwide race at Dover, when Sporting News NASCAR writer Bob Pockrass asked Busch about the way he raced Justin Allgaier in the closing laps of the race.
On pit road after the race, reporter Pockrass asked Busch whether being on NASCAR probation changed the way he raced Allgaier.
Busch replied, “It (being on probation) refrains me from not beating the sh*t out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions.”
Since the YouTube video of this exchange went viral, drivers, fans, and pundits alike have weighed in, voicing opinions on both sides of the issue.
While the majority of people seem to believe that this is simply the latest outburst of a notoriously impudent driver, others have criticized Pockrass for intentionally ‘stirring the pot.’
Among those in the latter camp is driver Tony Stewart, who went on Sirius XM NASCAR radio Tuesday to defend Busch. “Bob Pockrass is probably the biggest mixer in the whole media center,” Stewart said. “Every time he interviews somebody, it is strictly about something controversial.”
Stewart labeled Pockrass a purveyor of “gotcha journalism.”
Although I certainly disagree with that assessment, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that everything Stewart alleged is totally accurate.
Let’s say that Pockrass has a history of provoking drivers for the purpose of eliciting a reaction.
Let’s say that he was intentionally baiting Busch with his question.
What I don’t understand is why - why? - Kurt Busch took the bait.
If Stewart's allegations are true, then Busch foolishly played right into the reporter's hands.
Busch could have replied, “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard,” or “I refuse to answer such a ridiculous question,” or any of a myriad of responses that came into his head at that moment.
But why threaten to beat the sh*t out of the reporter? Whether Busch liked the question or not, his response was completely unwarranted.
But, beyond that, if Busch truly believes, as Stewart asserted, that Pockrass was looking to provoke an angry response, why in the world would you give it to him?
The most puzzling thing is that Busch knew he was already on probation. He knew the interview was being recorded. He knew that he had lost his ride at Penske Racing last season after another viral video showed him cursing veteran NASCAR reporter Dr. Jerry Punch (although the parting of ways between Penske and Busch was termed “mutual”). Busch knew that he had been fired at the end of the 2005 season by Roush Racing following an off-track driving incident, at which time a relieved Roush Racing president Geoff Smith said, “We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists.” And he knew that he spent much of the ’11-’12 offseason wondering if he would even have a Cup ride until he was picked up by James Finch - at least in part, many speculated, for the past champion’s provisional that Busch brings with him.
Given all that (and more) in Busch’s highly turbulent NASCAR career, and given the fact that he has no doubt received years of training in dealing with the media, and given that he is seeing a sports psychologist to learn to control his anger, wouldn’t you think that - by this time - he would have learned to simply deflect or decline to answer a question without threatening to beat up the reporter?
Do I think that Kurt Busch should have to walk on eggshells around reporters?
Do I think common sense dictates that he should just be civil?
But civility has never been Busch’s strong suit.
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