Gibbs stands by his man

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, looks on as team owner Joe Gibbs...

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, looks on as team owner Joe Gibbs speaks to members of the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday. (GETTY IMAGES)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:51 PM ET

It was a repentant Kyle Busch who showed up at Phoenix International Raceway with his boss, Joe Gibbs, on Friday.

Less than 12 hours earlier Busch and Gibbs had been told that the Mars group was puling its multi-million dollar sponsorship program from the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at PIR and for the season finale next week at Homestead Miami Speedway.

It was the latest in a long list of penalties that Busch has faced since he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Camping World Truck Series last week at Texas Motor Speedway.

Gibbs refused to say just how close he came to firing the controversial, but talented, Busch but he did confirm it was an option.

“In a situation like this you can make one or two decisions,” Gibbs said. “One (firing Busch) would have been devastating and really discouraging for everyone around him and for the sport.”

The three-time Super Bowl winning NFL coach said he felt it would be better to keep him with the team.

He also admitted that in spite of Busch’s latest antics, Gibbs genuinely likes the 26-year-old Las Vegas native.

“I want to support Kyle and feel as if this could have a positive impact on Kyle,” he said. “I like him. We’ve gone through a lot together. We’re looking forward to a long relationship.”

As for Busch, he looked and acted every bit like a chastened school boy, sitting sheepishly beside Gibbs as the team owner went over the series of events this week.

“This has been a trying week,” Busch said. “I’m apologetic for everyone having to go through this situation. There’s no one to blame but myself. Joe has been a huge supporter of me and I can’t say enough about him.

“We’re here to say we want to learn from this. We want to move on.”

He’ll have to move on knowing how close he came to being on the outside looking in at a NASCAR career that has produced 104 wins in all three top touring series.

It was late Thursday that Mars — the giant American candy maker — issued a statement that it was pulling its sponsorship from Busch’s car for the final two events of the season, but that it would be back as the team’s primary sponsor in 2012.

“Kyle’s recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars,” Debra A. Sandler, chief consumer officer of Mars, said. “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.”

Gibbs would not reveal how much the decision by Mars would cost the team, but typically a deal the kind that Mars has with a high profile team like JGR would run about $1 million per race.

Interstate Batteries, a long-time associate sponsor at JGR, has stepped in for the final two races but it is generally believed that it would pay less than half of the Mars deal.

Busch said he saw this whole sordid affair as an opportunity to “grow” as a person.

“This is an opportunity to become a better person to grow and learn from this,” he said. “I’m sure I lost respect with my team, my sponsors, my peers, and I understand those consequences.

“I understand my actions were uncalled for and disrespectful. I’m here to make sure I can continue in a positive manner and make sure everyone believes in me from this week forward.”

At least one of his peers, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, thinks this latest episode will force Busch into coming to terms with his behaviour.

“First of all, it would be a huge loss to the sport if Kyle Busch is not out there,” Gordon said. “He is extremely talented and he’s entertaining.

“I would certainly have to believe that this would be an eye opening experience. Sitting out Saturday and Sunday (at Texas) ... I’m sure at first he was pretty shocked at the magnitude of this incident. If this doesn’t get his attention nothing will.”


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