The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: The Curious Case of Churlish Kyle by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday June 10, 2010

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MPM2Nite: The Curious Case of Churlish Kyle

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday June 10, 2010


It’s a modern journalism phenomenon. The mainstream media seems to love elevating politicians, athletes, celebrities, and would-be celebrities to prominence, then spend the next few years trying to chop them off at the knees.

To a lesser extent, it’s the same with the racing media, yours truly included. We’re often not sure what it is, exactly, that we want. We’ll write about boring races, then decry the fact NASCAR threw an unnecessary caution to spice up the end of a race. We’ll decry the fact that drivers have become sponsor-spewing bland robots, yet the second we let just one of them show some negative emotion, they get taken behind the woodshed and beat to shreds in the press.

Such is the case with Kyle Busch many times over the last few seasons. The guy occasionally appears unable to open his mouth without shooting himself in the foot or coming across as a whiny brat. He’s damned if he walks away declining comment when he’s angry, and he’s damned if he sticks around and talks. But given the nature and tone of some of his comments, it’s pretty hard to lay the blame for what his brother Kurt might call “Kyle’s dispopularity” solely at the feet of the media.

Truthfully, I don’t think that Kyle Busch is the walking embodiment of evil some paint him out to be. The younger Busch brother is, in fact, an incredibly talented driver who has already won a ton of races in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions, and is likely to win scads more.

He’s also fairly charitable. A few years back, when early Busch Series pioneer Sam Ard was facing some hard financial times, Busch stepped up to the plate and offered assistance that included a specially equipped van to keep Mr. Ard mobile. Wednesday night, he sacrificed an all-too-rare afternoon and evening off to participate in Tony Stewart’s charity race at Eldora. Even at 25 years of age, Busch has set up his own charitable foundation to benefit disadvantaged kids.

So why is there a perception that Busch is a bad guy? He’s go no one but himself to thank for that. Some of it is out of his control. Busch’s default facial expression seems to be a swarmy smirk like he’s just waiting to get himself in trouble again. And Busch does, in fact, get whiny when things don’t go his way, an unfortunate trait for a fellow whose chosen profession means that you’re going to lose more races than you win. You’d think his ratios of wins to losses lately would keep most drivers upbeat and happy, but Busch apparently thinks he’s going to win every race he enters. Either that, or he’s going to find someone to blame that he didn’t win.

Though his All-Star race ended in sparks, Kyle Busch’s irate attitude towards teammate Denny Hamlin was nothing short of inexplicable.

I am still at a loss to understand why Busch was so angry after the All-Star race. Denny Hamlin didn’t run Busch up into the wall. Busch ran into it all by himself. Then, with a tire rubbing heavily, knowing it was going to blow, he continued driving at full speed until that right front tire did blow, and Kasey Kahne became an unfortunate victim of his indiscretion. If anyone had a right to be angry after that race, it was Kahne. Part of the maturation process for a young driver is learning to accept the occasional night or afternoon that doesn’t go your way. For some reason, Busch is a little slow on the uptake there.

Perhaps the most telling Busch moment of the year came during this year’s Darlington Nationwide event. When a late caution flew, Busch’s crew chief told him to pit, but he decided to remain on track. He then yelled at his crew chief over the radio, claiming that the decision not to pit had cost him the race. How does that work? As it turns out, apparently Busch was blaming Denny Hamlin, who had “freaked him out” by deciding not to pit.

Therein lies another part of the puzzle. The NASCAR TV media has been desperate for someone to step into the role of the villain ever since the death of Dale Earnhardt. Busch has often proven to be more than willing to don that black hat. His post-race bow to the fans (a good number of whom are booing him) is at once charmingly self-deprecating, but on another level about the equivalent of extending both middle fingers at them. (Either way, it surely beats the “snow angel” celebration.) By airing communications like the above exchange at Darlington (and Busch’s threat to kill Denny Hamlin at Charlotte), the networks add to the perception that Busch is a bit of a whiner.

It’s rare that any other driver other than Busch is shown stalking off to his trailer or motor home having refused comment. In at least one instance, Busch insists he was, in fact, ready to comment on an incident but the network thought the walk made for better TV than an actual interview. Sometimes, it does seem that in their efforts to paint Busch as the new “bad guy,” the networks don’t get the fact fans do, in fact, like a “Bad Guy.” Dale Earnhardt was the “Bad Guy” with his smirk, his take no prisoners driving style, and his “never explain, never complain” attitude. (Which, yes, he occasionally violated.) What the fans don’t like is a “bad” guy. Busch’s motto seems to be “never explain, always complain” which makes him a bit tiresome and comes across as whiny. Occasionally, the TV folks need to hand Busch a “bye,” let him cool off a minute and watch the tape before commenting – though it makes for better TV when Kyle once again goes into the meltdown zone.

But why would the TV networks pick Busch as their new bad guy? Part of it predates Busch’s own arrival in the big leagues. His brother Kurt wasn’t very popular in some quarters when Kyle arrived as a Cup rookie. But over the years, the elder Busch has matured, if not exactly mellowed. He’s learned to be more gracious in both victory and defeat. While still animated, Kurt Busch is no longer quite so despised. You’d have thought maybe Kyle would have gleaned some tips from his brother’s own rocky start in the business, which eventually led to a championship and subsequent dismissal from Roush Racing the very next season. Then, you read where Kurt and Kyle didn’t even talk for six months after a wreck in the All-Star race, and part of the problem becomes obvious.

For some Ford fans, there’s resentment that Kyle Busch had been a development driver for Jack Roush and Ford, only to eventually choose to sign on with Rick Hendrick and Chevy. Shades of Jeff Gordon, once the driver the fans most loved to hate, a 19-year-old kid landing a ride for one of the sport’s top teams having grown up with his parents bankrolling his racing dreams from a tender age. For them, the defection was Gordon all over again.

But the mild-mannered Gordon at 21 was no match for a teenage Busch moving up the ranks. In his very first season on the Cup circuit, a brash Busch made it clear he felt very strongly that even at 19, he wasn’t honored to be racing the Cup Series; he felt entitled and worthy to do so, and he planned to start winning races in bunches during the very near future.

Once he won at Fontana in his 26th Cup start, Busch became by and large insufferable to some. That same season, Busch went on to win at Phoenix, but he finished 20th in the points due in large part to eight DNFs, usually caused by him driving angry or beyond the limits of his experience. Busch would last until the end of 2007 with Hendrick. Though he technically lost his seat to Casey Mears, many felt that Busch, despite a lot of success, was getting kicked to the curb to make room for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Many felt Busch was nursing resentment towards Earnhardt after getting the boot from Hendrick, and has done little to quell that notion since. (When Rick Hendrick replaced Tony Eury Jr. with Lance McGrew, Busch said in a press conference that McGrew was the one under pressure because “it will never be Junior’s fault.”)

It all came to a head when Busch wrecked Earnhardt at Richmond in 2008 and noted (in one of his more self-aware moments) “Perhaps wrecking the sport’s Most Popular Driver wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done.” (His immediate reaction after getting pelted with beer cans after the race (he finished second) was “I’ll wreck at many cars as I have to to win races.”) With Earnhardt having been poised to end a 71-race winless streak, Busch instantly became one of the most despised men on the sport, if not on the planet.

Richmond International Raceway’s aftermath hasn’t always been this subdued for Kyle Busch.

Another classic Busch quote from the same year was in answer to how fans perceived him in the sport. (Maybe all the beer cans being tossed at the No. 18 car inspired the question?) Sayeth young Master Busch, “Since I got in the sport, my perception has been horrible.” Misspoken to be sure, but no truer words could have been said. Since he entered the Cup Series, Busch hasn’t been able to perceive where he fits in. He doesn’t seem to understand racing did just fine without him a lot of years, and it could, in fact, continue on quite nicely without him. When it seems that you’re in a feud with someone every week, and the normally level-headed Jeff Burton is in your face screaming after a race, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your actions. It can be somebody else’s fault some of the time, but it can’t be somebody else’s fault all of the time.

As a media member, I think eventually Kyle Busch will be fine, perhaps even respected for his raw talent once he learns to channel it in a way that doesn’t leave smoking carnage in his wake. Already, Brad Keselowski seems poised to pick up Kyle’s black hat. And so the circle of life continues, just as it did with Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, and others. The evolution from bad boy to respected statesman in the sport of stock car racing isn’t quick or linear. Even seasoned veterans occasionally show their ass on camera.

But if the media is fickle, they’re supposed to be fair. Fans aren’t under the same obligation. They like who they like and loathe who they loathe. Yeah, everybody says they want drivers to be honest and show emotion. But if every time you open your mouth, all you do is reveal a multitude of loathsome personality defects, maybe it really is best just to shut up.

Mr. Busch, you ain’t selling a lot of candy and dog food the way you’re going right now.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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06/10/2010 06:43 AM

16 Days till Danica comes back… 16 days till we no longer have to hear about KYLE BUSCH!

06/10/2010 07:22 AM

Take a look at Matt’s 1st three paragraphs. Ever stop to think that the media is to blame for the oversaturation of the sport into mainstream society?

In the early 2000’s as NASCAR grew in popularity, EVERY major media network jumped on board. As a result, now we are left with ignorant commentators on “NASCAR NOW” and the somehow-related-to-racing (?) “Fast Track to Fame” on Speed. These idiotic programs, inaccurate SPortCenter reports on Monday mornings, and so much other main-stream media belittle our interest in the sport and turn-away many of you “old school fans”.

Articles like this one do the same. Writers on NASCAR either scream about how AWFUL the sport is (yet they keep watching) or write about “the new kyle busch” – like anyone cares.

Most people in America concern themselves with job security, not NASCAR columnists. It seems as if they intentionally try to drive fans away to prove a point. Sure Brian France isn’t the greatest thing since Sliced Bread (let’s leave that to Joe Logano) but you guys aren’t helping.

The sad news is, the less fans, the less folks will read articles about NASCAR. Am I the only one who gets this? (Other than K.I.P. and Randal G?)

06/10/2010 10:04 AM

I say we give DansMom her own column. She can split it with noel_w and we can finally get a solid insight into the female perspective of Nascar.

06/10/2010 10:20 AM

Just for the record….Kurt Bush was a idiot and child until Jimmy Spencer MADE him grow up!! Kyle will be an idiot until someone in nascrap grows a set and breaks his nose!! Just ask Kurt!!

06/10/2010 10:58 AM

Johnboy60 – I have to agree. The punch in the nose from Spencer and Jack Roush’s “we’re done being apologists” statement did more to force Kurt to re-assess than anything else.

Kyle’s immaturity reflects badly on him, on his parents (who apparently were wolves judging by the manners of both their kids)and Joe Gibbs. How is it that Mr. Holier than Thou can have the most drivers on staff (first it was Tony, now its KyBu and Hamlin) who act in such a profoundly ugly way toward everyone?

BTW, I gave up eating M&M’s in particular and anything sold by M&M Mars as my own personal protest of Kyle’s behavior. I don’t have a dog, but if I did, I wouldn’t buy the brand he represents either.

06/10/2010 11:19 AM

I have to laugh at the time and effort spent on analyzing Kyle Busch. The media seems to want to feed the notion that he is the most hated driver in Nascar because of his behavior. Have you heard the radio from Dale Jr.,the other Busch and so many other drivers? Although not a Busch fan, I think the media has created this unreasonable “bad guy” attitude for the sensationalism.

You, the media, create these characters instead of giving them credit for their accomplishments.

There is obviously some skewed reporting for sensationalism because I don’t see the articles on Tony Stewart (who has physically and verbally assaulted the press), Carl Edwards (who has threatened his teammate and seems to have a uncontrollable temper).

And why doesn’t Jr. get the same treatment when he wrecked Busch at Daytona?

Fans do not know these drivers, it is the press that creates the personality. How many drivers storm off after a wreck or the end of a race?

I hope that Casey Mears, David Reutiman, Scott Speed, David Regan, Sam Hornish etc. receive some attention in your articles. Maybe you can create more heroes and less drama over one driver.

06/10/2010 11:33 AM

@Dansmom- I wonder how many races KB will win in these next 16 days? My guess is more than one.

Carl D.
06/10/2010 11:44 AM

“Writers on NASCAR either scream about how AWFUL the sport is (yet they keep watching)”[Much like Dansmom keeps ranting about certain columnists but keeps on reading]

… or write about “the new kyle busch” – like anyone cares.” [Much like Dansmom keeps blabbing about Danica]

I still say Dansmom is a closet McLaughlin fan. She’s just like him.

06/10/2010 12:06 PM

@Randy – Two problems, unless you’re being sarcastic here which is totally possible, Noel is a guy, and you’re not going to get a lot of solid info from dansmom. For solid “female perspective” comments, see what JerseyGirl has to say. She always has articulate, very sensible comments in all of her posts, IMO.

As for Kyle Busch, my problem last weekend with the media was some of the media was saying that “He is realizing what is important and concentrating on the cup side, while some were saying that Joe Gibbs insisted that he forgo the Nashville NW race and concentrate on cup. So, is Kyle more concerned about the cup series, or is it Joe / JD Gibbs?

06/10/2010 12:32 PM

The thing is, even though Kyle is much-hated by many, he is also becoming one of the sport’s most popular and marketable stars – if you count merchandise sales, which is the way Dale Sr. fans always ranked his popularity. Kyle is simply polarizing – you either hate him or love him. If Kyle Busch did not exist, NASCAR would have to create him. As a female fan and one who is even older than Mr. McLaughlin, I can honestly say Kyle has won me over nearly 100%. Just watching him pass Sam Hornish sideways on Sunday should have made any highlight film, if actual racing were ever included on a highlight film. I also love his attitute of “Refuse to Lose,” although I could do with a bit less whining. Still, I am a Kyle fan and I certainly am not alone in cheering for NASCAR’s Wild Thing.

Many NASCAR stars have learned that it is better to be booed than ignored, so if playing Mr. Bad Guy works for Kyle, I say keep bowing and smashing guitars!

And Jersey Girl, of course you don’t have a dog. That says it all.

06/10/2010 12:45 PM

@Susan – Smashing that Sam Bass Hand-Painted Trophy Guitar is one of the biggest mistakes Kyle has ever made. Don’t expect him to make that mistake again.

06/10/2010 01:25 PM

JerseyGirl ,you don’t understand why Joe Gibbs would hire drivers like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch ????? I can tell you exactly why . Because after all of the People Magazine , TMZ , Inside Edition , type handwringing over personalities and which driver talked trash or acted badly , it’s really about a drivers ability to win races . Thats the reason to hire a driver . And as you might have noticed , Gibbs is pretty good at picking winning drivers . Explosive , outspoken , opionated , jerks . Yeh , maybe . But the ability to interact with fans and media is secondary to a drivers ability to race . Because after all , thats why they’re there .
Now do some owners wish that their drivers were more patient with the fans and media ? Probably . Do they wish their drivers would avoid controversy ? Probably . Would they trade a Tony Stewart or Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch for drivers who don’t make waves , but also don’t race ultra hard ? Not if they’re really interested in winning .

06/10/2010 01:30 PM

It doesnt matter how many races KB wins in the next 16 days. 16 days from now NASCAR finally gets its savior back and I predict that she will win the Busch Series championship. I mean even I could beat all of those crappy drivers in that series.

Mullet Dan
06/10/2010 02:02 PM

Randy Goldman and Dans Mom are the same people.

06/10/2010 02:18 PM

Mom, please come back to bed now. I miss you.

06/10/2010 02:20 PM

Not to be confused with Mullet Dan, by the way.

06/10/2010 02:59 PM

Flattering, but I can assure you I am not nearly as hot as DansMom.

06/10/2010 03:22 PM

Oh-My-God Randy Goldman WHAT?

Shoeman – how many times will KB lead sportcenter in the next 16 days?

06/10/2010 05:33 PM

Probably not as good in the sack as her either.

Keeping it REAL
06/10/2010 10:10 PM

Well I think Dansmom must be a MILF. She’s right on with most of her comments even if you like to bash her, her points are valid. What’s hotter than a cool chick (she IS a fan, after all) with brain? If you answer a cool chick with no brains, look in the mirror, wacko ;-)

06/11/2010 12:43 AM

I have this fantasy about DansMom. Its where I smear preparation H around her mouth and it shrinks up tight so she can’t talk!

06/11/2010 02:02 AM

I remember when Kurt was the hated one in the Cup Series. Fans near the Las Vegas area warned, “Wait until his brother Kyle comes up. He’s even worse.” It was like reading a prophecy.

06/11/2010 09:51 AM

Were the Las Vegas fans warning you of how bad@$$ of a driver Kyle is?