Monday, August 23, 2010

COMMENTARY: Boo If You Want To, Kyle Busch Just Doesn't Care

Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch doesn’t care. He just wants to win.

NASCAR’s resident Peck’s Bad Boy did a lot of winning last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver to sweep the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races in the same week. And through it all, he confounded NASCAR Nation by thumbing his nose at fellow drivers and fans alike.

Wednesday night, Busch started his own Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra last on the grid after a leaking valve cover forced him to forfeit the pole position. It was a minor setback at worst. He took the lead on Lap 91 and dodged a record 13 cautions to claim his third Truck Series win of the season, before delivering his now-trademark flourishing bow as the Bristol grandstands erupted in boos.

Friday night, he riled up the boo-birds once again, repaying a late race bump-and-run from Brad Keselowski by dumping the Nationwide Series point leader with 30 laps to go, then driving away to his ninth Nationwide win of the season. After the race, Busch and Keselowski lobbed verbal salvos at each other on radio, television and public address, raising the decibel level in the Bristol grandstands to levels unheard since the late Dale Earnhardt rattled Terry Labonte’s cage in October of 1999.

The verbal jousting continued during Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series driver introductions. Greeted by another torrent of catcalls, Busch spread his arms wide and announced, ”Y'all are so loving… I'm ready to win it again!" Four drivers later, Keselowski grabbed the microphone and declared, "I’m Brad Keselowski… and Kyle Busch is an ass," sending the Thunder Valley faithful into fits of delirium.

The party didn’t last long, however. Kyle made sure of that, leading 282 of 500 laps -- including the final 72 — to complete his historic, three-race sweep. “I’ve been trying to do this since I got to NASCAR,” said Busch in Victory Lane. “Fortunately, tonight I was able to get it done (and) be the first one to do it. I’m the first in a lot of things,” he quipped, summoning forth another thundering chorus of boos.

Busch seems not to mind the hatred that spews forth from the grandstands each week. Instead, he appears to channel that tidal wave of negative energy into the motivation needed to accomplish what other drivers never dream of. With 78 career victories in his first seven NASCAR seasons, Busch ranks far ahead of modern-day benchmarks Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson -- who won 47 and 40 times in their first seven seasons – and light years ahead of legends Richard Petty (37) and Dale Earnhardt (17).

He is without question the best pure wheelman in the sport today. Part Rembrandt, part Rocky Marciano, he can finesse his way to Victory Lane with amazing feats of car control, or stick you in the fence without a single qualm of conscience.

So go ahead and boo, if it makes you feel better. Roar your disapproval to the heavens, write a poison-pen letter to the editor, cuss him out on national radio shows and call him any name you like; drivers and fans alike. Knock yourself out, but don’t delude yourself into thinking your opinion matters. Kyle’s going to win, and when he does, he’s going to celebrate just long enough for photographers to capture it on film before turning his attention to what comes next.

“I'm hard on myself and I might be hard on my guys,” admitted Busch after his historic Bristol three-peat. “But it boils down to the desire to win, wanting to win, and just trying to work more towards our goal.”

Just moments after making history at Thunder Valley, Busch was already looking ahead to Atlanta Motor Speedway and his next challenge. “It's going to be a test for us to see how good we are at the mile and a half stuff,” he said. “Then we go to Richmond, another one of the racetracks that I tend to run well at. Then the Chase starts. We hit reset and we've got ten weeks to show what we've got.”

“Hopefully it's enough.”

"Kyle is one of the most awesome talents," said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick in 2007, not long before his relationship with Busch came unglued (in part) because of Kyle’s challenging personality. "I compare Kyle to Tim Richmond, and that's saying a whole lot about car control. He's got that desire to win. He doesn't like to run second; he doesn't want to wait.”

Nationwide crewchief Dave Rogers called Busch, “a special driver and in my opinion the most talented driver on the circuit. There's a lot of fans out there booing him and some wise guys saying things that are somewhat unprofessional, but it's an absolute honor to work with Kyle Busch.”

As Busch completed his historic trifecta Saturday night, spotter Eddie D’Hondt quipped, “We are in the presence of greatness.”

Truer words were never spoken.

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