Kurt Busch is driven to change

Kurt Busch is able to keep his Chevrolet on the track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series...

Kurt Busch is able to keep his Chevrolet on the track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma despite some serious handling issues. That drew high praise from rivals Tony Stewart and winner Clint Bowyer. (AFP)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:48 PM ET

It was amazing to watch on Sunday afternoon how Kurt Busch — with one terrific run in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma — appeared to transform himself from uber villain to Mr. Nice Guy.

If you have not been following the Busch saga, he was run out of Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 and after there were no takers from any of the other top teams, Phoenix owner James Finch hired him to drive the underfunded No. 51 Chevrolet.

Then came his pit-lane confrontation with Ryan Newman at Darlington in May where he nearly ran over some crew members from Newman’s team.

For that Busch was fined and put on probation by NASCAR.

Just three weeks later at Dover, Busch, frustrated by another on-track incident, threatened to punch out a Sporting News reporter in a post-race interview.

NASCAR came down hard this time, suspending Busch for one race and putting into question his future in the No. 51 car.

Through all of his erratic behaviour it was easy to forget that what got Busch to the top of NASCAR in he first place was his enormous talent.

This is a guy, after all, who has a Sprint Cup championship and more than 30 wins on his resume.

Just how good he is behind the wheel of a stock car was in full evidence at Sonoma when he was a real threat to win until a panhard bar on the rear end of his Chevrolet broke making handling almost impossible.

In the hands of any lesser a driver, the No. 51 car would have been in the weeds but Busch hung on to finish third.

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was behind Busch for several laps as the race drew to close and was amazed what he was seeing.

“I was watching him, and it was honestly ... I don’t know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car,” he said.

“I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had.”

And race winner Clint Bowyer was effusive in his praise of how Busch raced him clean and how he could do it with what was essentially a broken race car.

“Kurt raced me clean,” Bowyer said. “He roughed me up and let me know he was there but never did anything to jeopardize either one of us, because that’s what happens.

“He raced a very smart race, and it was a good weekend for him.”

As for Busch, he was near tears after the race.

He said that he knows he has to get his act together and is committed to doing just that.

“If I can get my head on straight here and after the race, then I’m able to race every weekend and go for victories,” he said.

I am not sure how long this “new” Kurt Busch will last, because it is easy to be gracious when you finish on the podium.

A better indicator will be his behaviour after the next time he gets tangled up on the track and finishes 28th.

FINISH LINES

Another story of redemption in NASCAR has been Brian Vickers’ performance in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota filling in for Mark Martin. Last year at this time — fresh off a shocking interview with a men’s magazine where he detailed a wild side — he was in everybody’s bad books. But in three starts this season he has posted a pair of top five finishes, including a fourth at Sonoma. .... The folks who run the IZOD IndyCar Series just can’t seem to get it right. This week the decision not to add a race to the 2012 calendar after the cancellation of the race scheduled for China looks amateurish. Rumours that the China race was not going to happen started months ago and that is when it should have been dealt with.

DEAN’S RANT

Jacques Villeneuve has proven once again that charm, eloquence and grace often skips a generation.

At the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America this past weekend Villeneuve punted Danica Patrick off the course ending what was likely to be a top-five finish for the No. 7 JR Motorsports team.

Villeneuve was petulant afterwards, blaming Max Papis for the accident, saying that the Italian driver forced him into the grass and when he came back on to the track he couldn’t stop in time to avoid hitting Patrick.

Well having watched the incident several times, Villeneuve’s excuse just doesn’t wash.

My guess is that he was frustrated by Papis and took it out on Patrick. It’s not like he hasn’t done the same to other drivers before — just rewind the tape from last season’s Road America race when he booted Papis out of the race. And what about the brain cramp in Montreal when he crashed into Marcos Ambrose?

Villeneuve’s late father was also an aggressive driver, but never a careless one.

All of the goodwill that the younger Villeneuve has received in this country since his Indianapolis 500 and F-1 world championship is quickly running out with his actions as he tries to make a career in NASCAR.

KENSETH OUT AT ROUSH

What had been speculated upon over the past few days — that Matt Kenseth would leave Roush Fenway Racing — has come to fruition.

RFR announced Tuesday that Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be replaced by current Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse in 2013.

Even though Kenseth (left) has had trouble attracting sponsorship — his No. 17 Ford doesn’t have a full season deal for the current year — he is a former champion and is leading the points parade this season.

But there doesn’t appear to be any animosity between RFR bosses and Kenseth.

Kenseth tweeted his response to the announcement shortly after it was made: “I’m very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he’s given me over the past 14 years. Together we have enjoyed a lot of success ... and as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a 3rd Sprint Cup title for Jack and RFR.”

And team owner Jack Roush had nothing but praise for Kenseth.

“Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade,” Roush said. “And we are extremely appreciative of his accomplishments and contributions to the team, and will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family.”

MCLAREN BOSS: HAMILTON SHOULD KNOW BETTER

Lewis Hamilton is getting lukewarm support from his McLaren Formula One team after he was wrecked by rookie Pastor Maldonado at the European Grand Prix at Valencia.

While it was clear that Maldonado tried a bonzai pass that led to both cars being finished, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh (right) said Hamilton should have been more careful, knowing that it was a rookie driver behind him.

“In my mind, you saw him defend with (Kimi) Raikkonen, and he didn’t do anything different with Maldonado,” Whitmarsh told autosport.com. “I am sure in hindsight you have to say that dealing with someone like (Maldonado) you have to take a different approach.”


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