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Busch eager to win back peers, fans

12/1/2005

NEW YORK -- It took two quiet weekends out of a race car for
Kurt Busch to realize he needed an attitude adjustment.

Now that he's accepted it, NASCAR's most polarizing driver has an even bigger challenge ahead of him: convincing people he can
change.

Busch was a full participant in Thursday's season-ending
activities, dismissing all speculation that he would be excluded
from NASCAR's festivities following the controversial close to his
championship reign. He was suspended by his former team for the
final two races of the year after a run-in with Phoenix police.

Although he was only charged with reckless driving -- reports
that he was drunk were proven false when police said his blood
alcohol limit was well below the legal limit -- Busch was lambasted
for his belligerent attitude toward the officers.

It cost him his reputation and much of the respect he had been
working hard to earn across the garage.

Clearly contrite, Busch says he's eager to move on.

"Everybody has a circumstance that comes up in life where you
want to press the reset button and this is one of those," he said.
"What has to happen is the real me has to come out. The fans have
to get to know the real Kurt Busch better.

"I think you will see a difference, it's just going to take
time, like everything does."

Busch undoubtedly has a lot of work to do in repairing his
image.

A talented driver with 14 victories and one Nextel Cup
championship, Busch has struggled to make many friends or fans
during his five seasons. He's viewed as cocky and arrogant, and
disrespectful of the veterans who helped build the sport. He was
once even punched in the nose by Jimmy Spencer, then was booed by
fans a week later while Spencer was celebrated.

He then made enemies with his employers by announcing midseason
that he wanted to leave Roush Racing to drive for Roger Penske. The
contract he signed was for 2007, but Busch made it clear he wanted
out a year earlier.

Jack Roush was furious -- he discovered Busch, after all, and
gave him his big break -- and the relationship between the two
deteriorated to the point where they weren't even speaking over the
final month of the season.

So when Busch was stopped by police on the Friday night before
the Nov. 13 race in Phoenix, it gave Roush the opportunity to have
the last laugh. He kicked Busch out of his car and used every
chance he had to rip the driver publicly.

"He's an extraordinary talent, but he's really had trouble
dealing with the realities of normal social behavior," Roush said
in one of his many criticisms.

Busch chose to take the high road Thursday when asked about Roush, and indicated he would reflect upon his accomplishments with the team in his Friday night speech.

"I think we've had a great career together," he said. "I'll
leave with my head high and pride that I developed in that No.
97."

But he was clear he's ready to start anew at Penske Racing,
where he will replace retiring Rusty Wallace. There's a general
belief that if anyone can help Busch improve his image it's Penske,
a patient owner with a knack for calming unruly drivers.

"Roger feels as though he can help Kurt Busch off the race
track with the media and the public perception," Wallace said.
"He's confident that he can talk to him and help him smooth some
of those things out. I feel like if there's anybody who can do it,
it's Roger."

Wallace is also one of the many drivers suddenly showing support
for Busch. Roush teammate Greg Biffle has been vocal in his belief
that Busch was treated unfairly in the fallout of the Phoenix
arrest, as has new series champion Tony Stewart, who pulled him
aside to offer advice.

Now Wallace, who has turned the keys to his famed No. 2 Dodge
over to Busch, has extended his own offer of help to Busch.

"I don't think Kurt Busch has got as many problems as people
think he's got," Wallace said. "I think that stuff is way
overblown. He's just a hard-core driver that does things in a
different way.

"We've just got to get him to do things in a more acceptable
way and if I can help him, I will."

This humbled version of Busch will likely take him up on his
offer.

"Once we get through all this, it's going to be a lesson
learned for me," he said. "It will be great to turn over a new
leaf next season."