The Frontstretch: Darlington: When Kyle Busch's Season Took A Turn For The Worse by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday June 30, 2011

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Darlington: When Kyle Busch's Season Took A Turn For The Worse

Summer Bedgood · Thursday June 30, 2011

 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you hate Kyle Busch. If you don’t, you probably love him. There really seems to be no middle ground with this guy. In fact, the next time you go to the track, stop every race fan you see and ask them what you they think of the Shrub. I promise they’ll have an opinion.

However, I can’t help but wonder if people would hate him less if he would just go away. I don’t mean that he should leave the sport—heck no, we NEED him!—but Busch seems to be generating more attention now than even NASCAR’s favorite son Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I could sit here and tell you that’s because he’s won 11 races across all three NASCAR national touring series so far this season, and that would be true, but there is definitely more to it than that. Busch hasn’t won a NASCAR race in over a month, a surprising dry spell for a driver that seems to win at least once a weekend, yet he still continues to dominate the headlines more so than any other competitor.

Ever since Daytona, in fact, he’s been the topic of conversation for a variety of reasons, which has made it easier for people to get over (or enjoyment from) his behaviors in a hurry. In many ways, it’s been a season full of the “#KBShow” (Twitter reference, FYI), and not necessarily for all the right reasons.

Let’s start at the beginning. Heading into 2011, Busch was supposed to be a changed man. He wed his bride Samantha in December, an even that was supposed to change Busch from a bull in a china shop to a stuffed panda bear that would make everyone smile and go “Aww!” whenever he was on camera. Personally I never bought into that story but I’m not married so I figured, “Hey! Maybe marriage changes you! “

And, for a while, it seemed true. Busch seemed to have undergone a huge attitude adjustment over the offseason, and became a sponsor’s dream. Quick to thank his sponsors after a race—win or lose—he came off as well-spoken, gracious, and just happy to be there. When bad luck struck, everyone waited with baited breath for the volcano to erupt and for shades of the old Busch to return.

He didn’t. In fact, when Joe Gibbs Racing was enduring some of their engine problems that plagued them through the first part of the 2011 season, Busch took it in stride when his engine blew while racing at his home track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

When questioned after the race about what happened, he answered, “on the restart, I was going to bide my time and try to get back through traffic with plenty of time to go and ‘kablooey’ – it just broke.”

“Kablooey”? Really? This coming from the guy who all but threatened to kill his teammate Denny Hamlin following the conclusion of the 2010 Sprint All-Star Race? Now he’s using cutesy onomatopoeia to describe an engine failure?

I didn’t buy it. Marriage or not, the “old Kyle Busch” was still down there, somewhere, and I wasn’t going to believe that Busch had miraculously turned into a model citizen overnight. Through every watered-down, sponsor-driven interview he gave to reporters, I rolled my eyes and admittedly almost felt a sense of longing. After all, Busch had provided endless entertainment and storylines for a writer like me, and a driver that never seemed to provide a dull moment had somehow become more of a corporate spokesman than Jimmie Johnson.

And then, it happened. Kyle Busch erupted like Mount Vesuvius in one of the most epic confrontations NASCAR has ever witnessed.

While battling for position at Darlington Raceway with Kevin Harvick, Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer attempted to make a pass on both of them while they were side-by-side, making it three-wide. It definitely wasn’t the smartest move Bowyer ever made, and he paid for it. Busch bumped Harvick, who bumped Bowyer, who slid down across the track and hard into the inside wall.

But it wasn’t over then. Not by a long shot. After NASCAR had waved the yellow flag, Busch could be seen turning down onto Harvick’s right rear bumper and sending him up into the outside wall. Harvick was obviously, well, pissed at Busch after the incident, and the two engaged in a nefarious game of cat-and-mouse at the entrance to pit road before coming to a stop with Harvick in front of Busch. Harvick got out of the car, helmet still intact, walked over to Busch’s car, reached in to throw a punch, at which point Busch floored the No. 18 car into the back of Harvick’s No. 29, sending it careening into the inside of the pit road wall and damaging the front end. Busch later claimed (and NASCAR later proved) that the reverse gear had broken at an oh-so-convenient time for Busch, but Harvick didn’t see it that way and everyone has been watching the two ever since. $25,000 apiece and a four race probation period later, no revenge has been taken yet Harvick still assesses that it is indeed NOT over.

Since then, things have just seemingly gone downhill for the Las Vegas native. Though he won a rather heartfelt Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte a few weeks later and the results column will show Busch has remained competitive the past several weeks, the off-track headlines will tell a different story.

Just a few weeks after the incident with Harvick, Busch was cited for driving 128 in a 45 mph zone in Troutman, North Carolina in a 2012 Lexus LFA sports car by an Iredell Country sheriff. No action was taken by NASCAR or Joe Gibbs Racing—at least publically—but it was certainly another splotch in what had been an otherwise spotless record in 2011.

Then, it went from bad to worse. After a 32nd-place finish in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the series was headed to Kansas Speedway where Busch competed in both the Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series race. During a heated battle for position with Joey Coulter (Richard Childress Racing developmental driver) in the closing laps of the race, the two made some contact and Coulter took the position. On the cool-down lap, Busch tapped Coulter’s truck in what Busch said was a congratulatory nudge.

However, Coulter’s (and Harvick’s) team owner Richard Childress didn’t see it that way. Though no cameras were around, Childress allegedly took a few swings at Busch in the Kansas Speedway garage area on Saturday afternoon after some insults and harsh words were exchanged between the two. Though Busch showed no signs of injuries the day after, sources who had witnessed the altercation made it clear that Busch had lost. Childress was eventually fined $150,000 and Busch was let off when NASCAR said he had not violated his probation.

But wait! There’s more!

The next week Pocono Raceway, yet another domino fell. While racing with his old chum Harvick at Pocono Raceway the week after Kansas, Harvick gave Busch very little room to race and made it very difficult on the No. 18 driver to move around, at one point pushing him down to the apron of a very wide racetrack. NASCAR issued a warning to both drivers to lay off one another, and they were able to avoid confrontation the rest of the race.

Instead, Busch’s car was found to be too low according to NASCAR’s templates in post-race inspection, and he was hit with a six point penalty the next day, along with a $25,000 fine to crew chief Dave Rogers.

Ok, I’m almost done, so sit tight with me here. The following week in Michigan, all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars were found to be in violations of NASCAR’s rule book when it was discovered they were not using NASCAR-approved oil pans. They were confiscated and all three crew chiefs were fined $50,000 and escaped a point penalty.

Finally, last weekend in Infineon, Busch was able to avoid the headlines for the most part. Although he was involved in a late race incident with Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya, he remained largely unnoticed while several other drivers were feuding with each other. For once, Busch was out of the spotlight.

Oh wait! No. He wasn’t. After the race, Busch went up to Harvick and shook hands with him, a moment that happened to get caught on camera. Harvick said on Twitter that it took him by surprise, but in no way is their “rivalry” over.

Whew! So basically, for the past two months of NASCAR competition, Busch went from being one of the nicest guys in the sport and almost winning over some fans, to proving what everyone already knew. You can train a wild animal to behave in public but, deep down, they are still always a wild animal. And you never know when the claws might come out. In that one moment at Darlington, they did, and Busch has been running wild ever since.

It goes without saying that 2011 has essentially been the year of Kyle Busch, and it probably won’t stop here. Even if it would be in Busch’s best interest to lay low for a while, more than likely he’ll do or say something this weekend in Daytona that will grab everyone’s attention and again turn the focus away from the race winner.

So, to that I must say, welcome back Kyle! We all knew you were in there somewhere.

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Joe--
06/30/2011 11:32 AM
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Summer, loved the “erupted like Mount Vesuvius in one of the most epic confrontations NASCAR has ever witnessed.” I am not a fan of Kyle Busch but which guy would you rather have a cold beer with after a race, Kyle or that highly focused Jimmie guy?

Country
06/30/2011 12:20 PM
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I have to step in and defend the Shrub on this one. I’m no Susan, but I don’t hate the guy and I think you have to cut the guy a little bit of a break. Out of all the incidents listed in this article, the only thing that Kyle really did wrong on the racetrack was to dump Kevin Harvick, which, in the world of “Boys have at it” would have erupted in cheers from everyone, had it been Dale Jr turning Harvick instead. And his speeding ticket was bad, yes, but HAVE YOU SEEN THAT CAR?!?! Don’t lie to me and tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing. You may be a little smarter about when and where to do it, but you’d do it. As for Kansas, well, Childress sought him out. Right or wrong on Childress’ part, it was just a love tap. I’m not saying Kyle Busch should escape all criticism, I’m just saying that as a person…. maybe he’s not lower than the flies on Satan’s fecal matter.

Carl D.
06/30/2011 01:07 PM
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Who would I rather have a cold beer with? If Kyle’s buying, I’ll drink his beer, but if I’m paying, it’s gonna be the five-time champ.

The fact remains, however, that Kyle Busch may be, as Kes put it, an ass, but he’s probably the most talented drver in Cup right now. You ain’t gotta like or even respect him, but you can bet every driver on the track including Kevin Harvick knows how tough it is to actually beat him when he has a decent car.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. had plenty of haters, but he and most of his fans couldn’t have cared less as along he kept winning races and championships.

Cdakost
06/30/2011 02:09 PM
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Carl D. something you said jumped out at me. You’re right that Dale’s fans didn’t care as long as he kept winning races and CHAMPIONSHIPS. Kyle isn’t a champion yet. He may have the Nationwide one but he’s a Cup driver so that really isn’t a huge accomplishment.

Carl D.
06/30/2011 02:56 PM
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cdakost… I agree with you. In fact, it may be that Kyle’s NNW and CWT series racing has kept him from fully focusing on the bigger prize. On the other hand, how many other drivers have won cup championships in the last 5 years?

Cdakost
06/30/2011 04:29 PM
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I think it’s a huge factor. Just look at the guys whose records Kyle is breaking in NNS. Sam Ard and Mark Martin. Neither are Cup champions. Same with guys who run NNS every week. Busch, Edwards, Logano, Keselowski, Harvick, Bowyer. None of them do. But Johnson, Gordon, Stewart, all have multiple ones. You never see Gordon or Johnson in NNS. Stewart you only see at plate tracks anymore.

Matt
06/30/2011 05:37 PM
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Yeah, these past few weeks have sure been the demise of Kyle Busch. Multiple top 10 and top 5 finishes, moving up a couple spots in the points. That is a really crappy few weeks. Really crappy. Carl Edwards runs those NNS races every week, dont see him winning SCS championships. Where is your criticism of him? This year he has run MORE NNS races than Kyle. The whole NNS/CWS argument is crap, if that were the case than there are alot of “focused” drivers out there that cant find a way to beat the 48. Stop with the obsession. Erupted like a volcano, huh? Pretty harsh for a guy that has strung together several solid finishes among a sea of adversity. Thats some volcano.

Cdakost
06/30/2011 06:12 PM
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Matt, Carl does run NNS races every week but during that same time he doesn’t run NCWTS races. If you’re going to say that the NNS AND NCWTS argument doesn’t mean anything than you have to combine the 2 series’ stats. Kyle would make up the few NNS races he hasn’t run with NCWTS races.

Techy
06/30/2011 07:31 PM
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I like Kyle specifically because he’s NOT boring. To use some 4th of July speak, he’s the Cherry Bomb among a bunch of Sparklers. Don’t know who I could stay away for 3 hours and watch if he wasn’t in the races.

Bill S
06/30/2011 07:56 PM
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Summer, if this were a column written by a rational person for a respected organization, I would assume it was a joke. But alas, it is you writing for FS, so I assume you are serious that things are indeed looking bleak for poor Kyle. Only one paltry win since Darlington! Never mind that he has skipped most of the truck and NW series races since then. Also, never mind that he is in virtually the same place in the Cup standings as he was before Darlington, with the same all but guaranteed berth in the Chase.

If anything, I have been seriously impressed with Kyle’s focus during the media circus surrounding him the last month. Two third-place finishes in a row at tracks where he has never excelled, followed by an 11th at Sonoma after being victimized by late theatrics between the 42 and 2 that left him in 15th with only a few laps to go. Nonetheless, he kept his composure and gained 4 more spots by the end of the race.

So, where, is the disaster? Were a certain other driver whose name shall not be mentioned had similar finishes, you and the rest of the media would be proclaiming the Second Coming.

Yes, Kyle took the worst of it from Dick-head Childress, mainly because he did not fight back, could not fight back because he was on probation and because there is no way he could escape universal hatred for decking a 65-year old man, even if said old fart had it coming.

In fact, where was evil Kyle in any of these incidents? He hooked Harvick at Darlington. Arguably payback for Homestead. We all understand payback as it has been explained to us by such erudite figures as Tony Stewart.

His pit road incident after the Darlington race was much ado about nothing, since no one got hurt, no one came close to getting hurt, and Kevin was the one who stupidly left his car unattended.

The speeding ticket? OK, a clear violation of law, but again, who was hurt or close to being hurt? Compare that to the reckless driving and hit and run charges made against Richard Petty after a road rage incident, in which another driver was put in imminent danger by The King!

When Kyle extended his hand to Kevin last week, it was the ultimate coup for Kyle and embarrassment for Kevin, who did not seem to know whether to shake the hand or wet his pants. Kevin has talked a big game about payback, but nothing (as usual) is forthcoming from the Mouth of the Mouse.

Kyle has done a superb job of staying above all the harassment and when all is said and done, is just where he was before Bowyer invited disaster at Darlington.

For those who note that Kyle has not won a Cup championship, let me remind you that since Kyle turned the ripe old age of 21, only one driver has won a Cup championship, so Kyle has plenty of company. Where he does not have company is in talent or even fan support. His popularity is growing with each “incident,” and there is talk of a “Bill Elliott” like movement to get out the vote for MPD. Of course, Kyle will not win MPD from Junior and his fanatics, but the addition of a grassroots “vote early and often” movement can move him well up from his 9th place finish last season. Don’t overestimate the boos; as Dale Sr. once said, “if they are cheering or booing, they are still yelling for you, so it is all good.”

So, tell me again, why we should feel that Kyle is running around like a wild animal frothing at the mouth? I don’t see it. Neither does anyone else except Kevin. Now there is a man who has lost focus. Write about his foolishness next time. That would bear some resemblance to reality.

Cdakost
06/30/2011 11:16 PM
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Bill S…Kyle hasn’t skip most of the NCWTS and NNS races since Darlington. He’s skipped a few but I wouldn’t say most.
Even if Kyle wasn’t on probation, he wouldn’t fight Richard back because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know how.
I’m getting sick of the argument that the pit road incident after Darlington was nothing because no one got hurt. I don’t think that that’s the point. The point is someone COULD have gotten hurt. People were nearby. Look at the video. You can clearly see people standing on the other side of the wall. If any of them would have jumped over things wouldn’t have gone the way they did.
Kevin encountered the same problem as Richard when he got out of the car.
The speeding ticket, who was close to being hurt? Are you serious? Doing 120+ mph on a public road puts many people in danger. I don’t live anywhere near North Carolina but I’ve seen a aerial map view of the road he was on. Just like the pit road at Darlington, if someone would have been walking or biking on the side of the road and he comes barreling around a corner and that could have ended in disaster. Back here in Minnesota you have to cross the road to get your mail. You would never know that there’s a car coming at that speed.
I think Harvick’s just waiting for the perfect opportunity and it didn’t present itself at Infineon. Daytona won’t be the place either. He’s just waiting for a smaller track. Harvick’s way more likely to come through on a threat and Busch. That and he’s great at head games.
I’m not just talking about Kyle not winning a championship. Look at his self destruct in 2008. Lead the regular season, made the chase and then boom, last in the chase. Look at 2009, so focused on running for the Nationwide championship that he misses the chase. 2010 brings another poor Chase finish. I’m sorry that you can’t appreciate what Johnson has done but Chase or no Chase you have to race the point system. Good for him on figuring it out better than anyone else.

old farmer
07/01/2011 12:44 AM
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It’s Summer Dreyer & her blind prejudices who should just “go away” in favor of an unbiased journalist.

There must be one out there somewhere who likes NASCAR.

They’re pretty few & far between on this website.

Really
07/01/2011 06:13 PM
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Hopefully the nice people in th physciatric ward are helping you cope with your colorful thoughts. Somewhat correct but mostly ficticious from Darlington on.