HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) – Kurt Busch’s championship banner waved high over Homestead-Miami Speedway, the only evidence at the track of the embattled driver.

Suspended for the final two races of the season after a run-in last week with Phoenix police, Busch won’t be around to lower the flag for his successor following today’s season-ending Nextel Cup race.

Jack Roush, his former car owner, said Friday he never once considered lifting the ban and allowing Busch to drive this weekend.

“Kurt had been a challenge for everybody that interacted with him on the team at some time or other,” Roush said. “He used up his equity with his sponsors. He used up his equity with me.” The fallout from Busch’s reckless driving arrest was still reverberating around the garage a week later, with everyone weighing in on the situation.

He had supporters in teammate Greg Biffle and rival Tony Stewart, and a heavy critic in Roush, the owner who made Busch a NASCAR champion.

Roush is still angry over Busch’s decision to leave his organization to drive for Roger Penske, a decision Busch made just months after winning his first Nextel Cup title. His desire to move on shocked Roush and forever fractured their relationship, with Roush saying Friday he hasn’t even spoken to the driver in at least four weeks.

So it was no surprise when Roush took the unusual step of kicking Busch out of the car and refusing to let him finish the final two races of the season. It was Roush’s way of getting the final word.

Although police now say Busch was far below the legal drinking limit, they accused the driver or being belligerent, argumentative and verbally harassing the officer performing the traffic stop.

Roush said reports of Busch behaving badly didn’t surprise him.

“I was doubting that Kurt was in fact intoxicated beyond a legal limit because it had been his nature to be very much like he was reported to be in contentious situations that frustrated him before,” Roush said. “He’s an extraordinary talent, but he’s really had trouble dealing with the realities of normal social behavior.”

So now, on what should have been Busch’s final hurrah, he’s become the champion everyone wants to forget.

Speedway officials were debating how to handle the traditional championship celebration Sunday, when Busch would have lowered his flag and watched as the new winner raised his. Roush said he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig might stand in for the ceremony. “It’s going to hurt me a ton not being there,” Busch said. “Drivers dream of those type of honors and I will not have the chance to enjoy it the way that I envisioned.”

Busch will instead be at home watching an NFL game.

“The Bears are playing the Panthers, those are my two favorite teams,” he said.

He also doesn’t want his suspension to be a distraction to the final race of the season, when Stewart will try to beat Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Biffle.

“Only a few drivers have the chance to be the 2005 champion and the focus should be on those drivers, the teams, the race and the championship and not this situation,” Busch said.

But it’s too late for that.

His team is trying to move on with Kenny Wallace behind the wheel, painting Wallace’s name on the car where Busch’s used to be. Fennig, who has been with Busch the past three years, said it’s a difficult ending for a team that was on top of the sport exactly one year ago.

“We got along OK. Kurt is Kurt and that’s just the way he is,” Fennig said, choosing his words carefully. “This whole thing has been hard for the team because we are coming off a championship and then Kurt says he wants to leave. Nobody could figure it out, why he wanted to leave, and people were hurt.

Biffle believes Busch got a “bum rap,” contending that liquor sponsor Crown Royal would not have pressured Roush to kick him out of the car had the Phoenix police been forthcoming with results of his sobriety test. Police initially said the test failed, then admitted this week that a second test showed that Busch’s blood-alcohol level was 0.017 – below the legal limit.

“I honestly, 100 percent in my heart, feel that was totally fabricated that the breathalyzer machine did not work,” Biffle said.

“Yeah, he acted like a jerk. Yeah, he might have been speeding or done something he shouldn’t have, but are those grounds for taking him out of the race car?”

And Stewart said he has had minor problems with Phoenix-area officers before, including a time he couldn’t get to his motorhome because he didn’t have the proper credential.

“For some reason when we go to Phoenix, that’s the only problem that we have,” Stewart said.

AP-ES-11-18-05 1636EST

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