The Kurt Busch Travesty at Fontana Should Have Michael Jordan Demanding Answers

We’re two weekends into the NASCAR regular season, and Kurt Busch has a right to wonder what he’s gotten himself into at 23XI Racing.

Someone, or several someones, screwed up on Friday and couldn’t get Busch’s No. 45 Toyota Camry through inspection successfully the first three times. That will cost him on Sunday at Fontana by sending the 33-time Cup Series race winner to the back of the pack and likely leaving him a lap down just two laps into the Wise Power 400.

Busch has been on the receiving end of an uncomfortable conversation with the boss this month. So, excuse him if he feels compelled to call Michael Jordan to tell him to get to the bottom of the nonsense.

Kurt Busch will start at the back, then take a quick additional penalty

NASCAR announced that Kurt Busch’s car failed three inspections on Friday at Auto Club Speedway. By rule, Busch cannot participate in qualifying on Saturday. That also costs him the right to choose his pit stall and sends Busch to the back of the 36-car starting field.

And it’s not even the worst of it. Busch also must perform a pass-though penalty after the start of Sunday’s Cup Series race, which makes it entirely possible he could fall a lap down almost immediately. The only positive is that he’d probably get the lucky-dog pass if the caution flag comes out in the first 30 or so laps.

The No. 23 Toyota of Bubba Wallace, Busch’s 23XI Racing teammate, failed a pair of inspections. Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and BJ McLeod suffered the same fate, NASCAR reported, and the penalty is the loss of a crew member for the race and the inability to choose their pit stall.

Had Busch’s car failed inspection the fourth time through the line, then the penalty would have been devastating: a minimum or a 25-point deduction in the standings, which could be the difference between making the 16-car playoff field or not. Sixteenth-ranked Matt DiBenedetto’s margin over 17th-place finisher Chris Buescher in last season’s regular-season standings was just 26 points.

Kurt Busch deserves some answers

Kurt Busch walks on pit lane during qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2022. | James Gilbert/Getty Images

Veteran driver Kurt Busch, 43, came over to 23XI Racing in the offseason and made his points-race debut by placing 19th last week in the Daytona 500. Before that, however, he bombed out of the Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles by not advancing out of the heats.

In an interview with Fox Sports, Busch said he reached out quickly to team owner Michael Jordan rather than waiting for the retired NBA legend to contact him.

“I texted him afterward that Charles Barkley GIF. It was when he goes, ‘Terrible, terrible,’” Busch said. “So, I texted that to MJ to just kind of clear the air, like, you can get with me anytime, and you’re going to get a straight-up, honest answer.

“And he said, ‘What are you going to do to fix it?’ I said, ‘I’m headed to the race shop tomorrow morning, simulator Wednesday. Our work is never done here.’”

Now, though, the Air Jordan is on the other foot. Busch’s crew couldn’t get his car through inspection until the fourth try. Teammate Bubba Wallace’s car needed three looks. Somebody should have dialed up Jordan first thing Saturday to ask tough questions. Busch would have been entitled to be the caller.

The inspection process can be fickle

Twenty-nine NASCAR Cup Series cars made it through inspection at Fontana on the first or second try on Friday. Kurt Busch’s car was the only one of 36 needing four attempts, so the onus is on the 23XI Racing team.

However, the inspection process can be quirky at times in the era of the Optical Scanning Station that made its debut in 2018. The station consists primarily of a battery of cameras and projectors that create a 3D map of the car. Computers analyze multiple measurements in search of anything that appears askew, judging against the template for that manufacturer.

A car sitting too high or too low might be a sign of unapproved modifications to the suspension. A spoiler angled millimeters from the acceptable range or a misaligned deck lid show up quickly.

One complaint that comes up several times per season, however, is that the position of the car inside the scanner can make a difference. One story floating around is that Bubba Wallace’s Toyota failed inspection on the second time through at the 2021 Daytona 500 and then passed the next time even though the crew purportedly made no adjustments.

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