For the second time in his Sprint Cup Series career, an off-track issue has cost Kurt Busch his job.
Penske Racing announced this morning that the team and Busch had reached a "mutual agreement" to end their relationship, effective immediately. The team said it will evaluate its options for the No. 22 car.
The split was first reported by the Observer on Sunday.
Just over a week ago NASCAR fined Busch $50,000 for the use of an obscene gesture and a profanity-laced tirade directed toward a media member during the Cup series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The incident with ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, which took place in the garage after Busch's car broke its transmission, was caught on video and posted on YouTube.
At the time, Penske Racing officials issued a statement saying they were reviewing the matter internally.
Asked if he could confirm Busch as the driver of the No. 22 team in 2012, Penske spokesman Jonathan Gibson last night referred to its previous statement and said the organization would have no further comment at that time.
In a statement today, team owner Roger Penske said he appreciates “the victories that Kurt has brought Penske Racing and our sponsors over the past six years.
"While I am disappointed that Kurt will not be racing for our team in the future, both Kurt and I felt that separating at this time was best for all parties, including our team and sponsors. I wish Kurt the best in his future racing endeavors."
Busch, meanwhile, said he was grateful to his former team.
"Together we won a lot of races -16 in all,” Busch said in the statement. “Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy, but it's an important step for me and allows me to take a deep breath to work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person. I want to personally thank Roger Penske for the opportunity that he has given me."
In November 2005, less than one year after winning his first Cup series championship, Busch was fired by Roush Fenway Racing after he was cited for criminal recklessness in Avondale, Ariz., in what police described as an alcohol-related incident.
Busch sat out the remaining two races of the 2005 season. He began driving for team owner Roger Penske in the 2006 season.
Since joining Penske, Busch has won 10 races and his highest finish in the series standings was fourth in 2009.
This decision comes very late in the year and puts both Busch and Penske in a difficult position.
There are no quality rides currently available for next season for Busch to pursue, and no drivers with a resume on the track similar to Busch's available for Penske to hire.
Several drivers who competed in the Cup series this season remain without rides, including David Ragan, Brian Vickers and David Reutimann.