LONG POND, Pa. — Kurt Busch's talent behind the wheel has never been challenged.
It's why he always had a ride.
Busch's temper has never been fully harnessed, and it's the reason he suddenly has a job to salvage and a reputation to repair.
Busch was absent Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday's Pocono 400, as part of the one-week suspension levied by NASCAR for verbally abusing a media member. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion is not eligible to return to a NASCAR-sanctioned event until Wednesday. Busch has time to think about his Tuesday meeting with Phoenix Racing owner James Finch and decide if this frayed relationship can be saved, or, if perhaps a split is on the horizon.
"I don't want to lean one way or the other," Phoenix general manager Steve Barkdoll said. "Ultimately, everybody in this garage knows Kurt's as good a talent as anybody out there. It'd be crazy for us not to want Kurt in our car. But some things certainly have to change for that to be that way."
Finch, who was not at the track, told Sirius Radio this week that the partnership will be on a race-by-race basis going forward.
Barkdoll laid out a glum picture of Busch's first season with underfunded Phoenix.
"We have wrecked 14 cars, and we are not attracting any sponsors as of right now," Barkdoll said. "We want to keep this company going, and part of that is to get this turned around. We certainly want Kurt to be part of that. But he's got to do his part because James is most certainly doing his part."
Barkdoll said he thought Busch could pattern this season in the mold of how Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified last year for the Chase for the Championship. Earnhardt was winless with nine top-10 finishes and three top fives over the first 26 races, not out of reach for Busch.
"We were hoping to be like a 15th-place car," Barkdoll said.
Instead, Busch is winless with one top 10, has finished in the 30s three times and was no better than 20th in his past five races. He's 26th in the standings.
He was busted on video having a confrontation with a reporter after Saturday's Nationwide race at Dover. The dustup was in violation of the probation he was placed on after an incident last month at Darlington. Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation through July 25 for reckless driving on pit road and an altercation with Ryan Newman's crew. His probation was extended through the end of the year because he lost his cool over the reporter's question.
Indy drivers concerned: Alex Tagliani led a Honda sweep in qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where IndyCar drivers debated the rule package as the series returns to a high-banked oval for the first time since Dan Wheldon's death.
Heading into tonight's Firestone 500, there has been concern among drivers, who are unanimously opposed to the pack-style racing that was cited as a factor in the St. Petersburg resident's fatal accident in October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The drivers met as a group last weekend in Detroit and voted to recommend less downforce for the cars at Texas, the first 1½-mile banked oval since last season.
IndyCar accepted the recommendation, but the drivers were divided on the result.
"The intent is to make it safe, and for everyone's peace of mind, we need to leave here after what happened in Vegas with a safe race. And I think that's important in the mind of everyone," said Tagliani, who turned a lap at 215.691 mph to bump Dario Franchitti (215.646) to second.
Formula One: Lewis Hamilton topped both practice sessions at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, the McLaren driver running a top lap of 1 minute, 15.259 seconds around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Trucks: Johnny Sauter passed teammate Matt Crafton for the lead with 22 laps left to win the Winstar World Casino 400 at Fort Worth, Texas, the seventh different driver to win in the series' first seven races.