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Penske Racing splits with Kurt Busch

By Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 5 2011 1:24 p.m. MST

Shell, primary sponsor of the No. 22 Dodge, said in a statement it supported the decision.

"Shell and Pennzoil utilize our motorsports program to gain technical knowledge for our products and brands and to promote them to consumers in a positive way," the statement said. "Moving forward we will continue to work with the team at Penske Racing and to evaluate the best options for our motorsports program."

Denker said discussions began in earnest Monday on a replacement for Busch, and the team had been contacted by several drivers "raising their hand." Among active Cup drivers available are David Ragan, Brian Vickers and David Reutimann, who all head into 2012 without rides.

There's a deep pool of talent in the Nationwide Series, as well, but Denker said longtime Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. is not a candidate.

"Our intentions all along have been to run Sam for the Nationwide Series championship next season," Denker said. "We love that plan, NASCAR loves that plan, the sponsors love that plan."

It's also not clear where Busch is headed next. There are no competitive rides available unless a team owner specifically makes room for him, but Busch would not commit in his interview with AP to returning to NASCAR next season.

He peculiarly said he wants to "be remembered as a champion driver" and laughed when asked if that was a goodbye.

Busch has dabbled in NHRA and Street Stock Racing in the past, and said that's where he's found the most joy of late.

"That's where I had the smile on the face," he said. "It reminded me of the beginning days of racing for me."

At 33, Busch has a long racing future ahead of him, and his 24 career victories and 11 seasons have given him flexibility to take his time planning his future. He joked he landed in NASCAR at the wrong time, and that the hard-nosed 1980s era when the emphasis was more on racing and less on sponsorship and off-track issues, was probably better suited for him.

"The '80s were a great decade. I just missed it," he said.

Busch, meanwhile, is the older brother of Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, who also spent the last month of the season in turmoil. An annual title contender, he was suspended by NASCAR in early November for intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution in a Truck Series race at Texas.

NASCAR also fined Kyle Busch $50,000, and the driver had to fight to save his seat in the final two races of the year when sponsor M&M's balked at letting him race. No decision has been formally announced regarding Kyle Busch's participation in Nationwide and Truck races next season, although M&M's indicated it will continue to sponsor him in Cup.

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