So here’s a question for Darrell Waltrip and Co.
Where, exactly, was the “new” Kyle Busch? Did he have this weekend off? Because he sure as hell wasn’t in Darlington, South Carolina. Because whoever was wheeling the No. 18 Toyota this Saturday night displayed not a shred of anything resembling guts, sincerity, or maturity.
The events of lap 364 of the Southern 500 were captured to crystal clarity by FOX’s broadcast crew. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were battling hard for a spot in the top 10. Harvick made contact with Busch’s rear end entering turn 4 while making a crossover move. As the two were side by side entering turn 4, Clint Bowyer also entered the fray, creating a three-wide situation that proved too much for Harvick’s No. 29 to handle; Harvick corrected down the track and sent his teammate headfirst into the frontstretch’s interior retaining wall.
From there, Harvick visibly moved down the track to get off of Busch’s Toyota. Busch, however, refused to let Harvick get away, turning a hard left down the frontstretch that hooked the No. 29 and sent it into the fence. Busch would finish the melee 11th, Harvick a distant 17th, disappointing results for two drivers that were contending through the long night for the win.
Frankly, there’s not a case to be made against Busch for choosing to wreck Harvick. Harvick did initiate the contact that the two drivers engaged in for the better part of a quarter-lap in the closing stretch. And what’s more, Harvick is one of the very few drivers in any level of NASCAR that Busch actually owed one. Flashback to Homestead last November, where after nearly 400 miles of Busch playing the good teammate, making life a living hell for both Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson as he tried to assist Denny Hamlin’s championship bid, Happy bowled all over Busch down the frontstretch to end the No. 18’s season early (he would later tell Hamlin “I parked yours [teammate].”)
Had the events of the evening ended at that, Busch would for the first time in his career actually be left holding the high ground. Eye for an eye, Busch six months later did exactly to Harvick what he had done to him at Homestead.
But what happened next ended any chance the Shrub would have at playing that role. It went beyond that, burning the facade that is the newfound maturity of Kyle Busch and desecrating the ashes.
A visibly angry Harvick pulled up right alongside Busch’s machine coming to pit road after the race; Busch tried to avoid the situation, pulling off pit road and back to the frontstretch. Harvick followed. Eventually, Busch returned to pit road, and Harvick stopped his car in front. Once Harvick had exited his car, Busch did the unthinkable; he ran into the back of Harvick’s parked car on pit road, sending the No. 29 into the pit wall with Harvick’s crew members watching.
Busch proceeded to drive his own car to the No. 18 hauler, parking the machine and later emerging to speak to FOX regarding the incident. And here, the brat side of Kyle Busch was on display for race fans coast to coast to see. He described Kevin Harvick’s racing hard in the late going as “unacceptable.” He never once acknowledged that, as the tapes clearly showed, that he had delivered payback, justified or not. And he blew off being called to the NASCAR hauler as “cool,” bearing more resemblance to a cocky high schooler trying to impress a gaggle of freshman by blowing off the man. With a slimy smile on his face to boot.
None of this is to say that Kevin Harvick has anything to hang his hat on either. Harvick did initiate contact with a driver he knows full well has a temper…and that owed him one. Harvick tried to throw a punch at Busch before Busch had gotten out of his car. And Harvick yet again opted to march into conflict with a driver completely protected by his helmet. If anything, Happy proved that he still needs to grow a pair to match the attitude he sports.
But none of that changes the fact that a driver has been the subject of an intense media lovefest for his supposed maturation since an offseason marriage and a red hot start to 2011 that’s seen him run well in Cup while massacring the minor league ranks of NASCAR. Lesson learned; it’s awful easy to act calm and mature when things are going well. On this Saturday night, that wasn’t the case. Busch had a car capable of winning this race, but a mid-race vibration and an unscheduled pit stop mired the No. 18 too far back in traffic to take this trophy home. Top 10 was the best case on this Saturday night.
And lo and behold, that “maturity” went out the window. There was Busch, playing rough with one of NASCAR’s nastiest, and then literally running away from the situation after the fact. There was Busch, wrecking another car after the checkered flag flew (not the first time, flash back to Watkins Glen in 2005, when Busch ran over Anthony Lazzaro after the race concluded). And there was Busch, basking in media attention for his misdeed as if he’d made a point, as if he’d stood up for himself on the sport’s biggest stage.
Busch certainly made a point. The “old” Kyle Busch is alive and well. No matter the PR job that Joe Gibbs Racing does, and no matter the rubber stamp DW and so many in the media put on it, Kyle Busch is still a petulant punk of a race car driver, even if there’s a ring on his finger. And though he may be smiling more in 2011, the same attitude and behaviors that for years have kept one of NASCAR’s greatest talents from realizing anything short of stacks of minor league wins are all still there.
Then again, Mars Inc. is probably thrilled. The terror of a little kid they’ve had hawking candy for the past few years started talking, acting and smirking like one again.
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