The Frontstretch: Having A NASCAR Villain To Hate Never Felt So Good by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 12, 2008

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Having A NASCAR Villain To Hate Never Felt So Good

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday May 12, 2008


Moments after taking his first career Darlington win, Kyle Busch got out of his car, hopped on the roof, and took a bow as if he were the hero. It was the culmination of a burnout performance worthy of his Indiana Jones paint scheme.

Too bad the fans thought it was the equivalent of a standup comedian telling five straight minutes of awful jokes. The sold out crowd showed their appreciation – or lack thereof – in all sorts of different ways: beer cans, boos, and giving him the middle finger.

And so it goes for NASCAR’s resident villain these days. One week after the controversial contact that left Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winless and Busch whining about the possible backlash, Saturday night was an indication it’s going to take weeks, if not months for fans to forget what went wrong.

Too bad for them Busch is busy concentrating on what’s going right.

“I’m very grateful and humble that I’ve been able to win six weeks in a row,” he explained in his post-race press conference. “But I feel like there could have been more.”

If it were up to the fans in the stands, though, the win total would have been none. From the moment of pre-race introductions through the shower of post-race beer cans, it’s clear the anti-Kyle Busch sentiment has clearly reached its peak. It’s not just the Junior spin that has them up in arms; it’s Busch’s aggressive driving style, combined with a personality that sees no need to apologize for it.

“He just gets himself into situations, you know, that just follow him,” said former teammate Jeff Gordon after the race. “He just needs to accept it.”

He might have had world famous hero Indiana Jones on the side of his car; but Kyle Busch seems to be revealing in his role of NASCAR’S favorite villain these days.

And by all accounts, Busch does; or perhaps he simply plays the role of the villain simply by being himself. Saturday night, listening to his radio was the equivalent of hearing a bus driver throw his kids under the bus and then drive over them, time and time again. Busch called his brakes pathetic, his car a mess, and directed comments towards his crew that – if taken the wrong way — should have made them throw faulty lugnuts in his face instead of on the tires of his car.

But it was a pit road problem itself that defined Busch’s night, a showcase of how he’s developed from a no-holds-barred driver to one that’s more intelligent than most would like to admit. After an issue with the glue holding lugnuts on the right rear tire caused an extra visit to pit road on lap 143, Busch found himself thrown from second all the way back to 25th; at the Track Too Tough to Tame, you’d expect that to be a recipe for disaster with his aggressive driving style.

“To be honest with you, a year ago or two years ago, I probably would have just thrown my hands up and wrecked the thing,” Busch admitted. “If it would have happened with 30 laps to go, I would have been junk. I would have probably folded in half.”

“But I’m getting that much smarter — not much — but just that much smarter to where I know that we’ve got still a long race. Knowing there was enough time to rebound from it, I just kind of laid back, stayed cool, tried to maneuver my way through traffic, and do the best that I could.”

And once again, Busch’s best wound up sending him to Victory Lane, tying Carl Edwards for the most victories on tour thus far. But unlike Edwards’ debonaire backflip – a fan favorite for several years – Busch’s bow didn’t, um, bring the same type of positive attention.

Jeff Gordon noticed as much, as a man who knows a thing or two about being booed through the years. Heck, he spent 2007 under a shower of beer cans after passing Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on the win list – six years after his former rival’s death — and he understands just what that passion does for the sport.

“Having a love-hate relationship out there with the fans is not a bad thing,” the four-time champ reminisced. “I heard more noise for [Kyle] tonight than I’ve ever heard for him. And all I can remember when I came into this sport is riding around Dale Earnhardt, and him getting a lot of boos and cheers, and all he cared about was about how much noise they made.”

“That’s what I’ve always built my philosophy on. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of noise. I didn’t always, you know, know who’s cheering and who’s booing. But, you know, right now, the boos might be louder than the cheers, but at least they’re making a lot of noise.”

Noise means fans are paying attention, that they’re engaged about what’s going on and they care who wins or loses. In a decade where personality had been tabled in favor of political correctness, there was a time where NASCAR lost that; but leave it to a 23-year-old nicknamed Rowdy to spearhead its unlikely return. Busch may not care what anyone thinks, but many care how he’s cut the cookie out of cookie cutter, stirring up the recipe for emotion the sport badly needs.

All you needed to do was listen to the stands, and you saw the impact. Whenever Busch and Junior were within a second of each other, the crowd stood at attention like the days not long ago when a man named the Intimidator approached Rusty Wallace in the 1990s. Every time Busch took the lead, fans were inconsolable, looking for anyone behind Busch to beat him. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, the stands didn’t care; they just cared for someone else to be up front.

Too bad that’s not going to happen anytime soon; at least, according to Busch’s future plans.

“Hopefully in the next couple weeks, I can go to Charlotte, win a Truck race or All-Star Race or both, at that. That would be awesome,” he predicted. “We just need to keep that bull’s eye on us.”

“Guys are looking at us and worrying about us. We’re the target that they’re shooting for.”

In the meantime, fans will keep busy trying to shoot Busch down; but that’s the type of hatred that’ll keep ‘em coming back week in, week out.

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Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
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©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Master Braytak
05/12/2008 03:10 AM

Kyle Busch is the Jimmy Hart of Nascar. Remember Jimmy in big time wrasslin back in the ’80s? He would be struttin around the ring with his megaphone taunting the fans whipping them up into a frenzy, while Vince McMahon would be in the back room counting all the money that the loudmouth brought in with his antics.

I actually like Kyles driving style, and love the fact that Hendrick canned him last year to make room for Danica Earnhardt. I just wish his spec IROC car had Ford, Dodge or Chevy stickers on it rather than Toyota stickers.

05/12/2008 06:41 AM

Finally a genuine villian in NASCAR , not like the contrived ones such as Kevin “he ain’t an Earnhardt” Harvick or Tony “he whines the most” Stewart , and don’t let me forget Kurt “he’s not from round here” Busch or Jeff” the upstart” Gordon !

05/12/2008 07:55 AM

Buster, remember Kurt was a wise guy too!!Until Jimmy Spencer taught him to say “yes sir, no sir. And it WILL happen to kyle!

Travis Rassat
05/12/2008 09:16 AM

I honestly wish Kurt Busch would go back to his old ways of being a cocky prick. He’s trying so hard to be overly PC now, it seems completely contrived and he’s no fun anymore.

05/12/2008 09:37 AM

Thomas, in pointing out Shrubs whining during the race you failed to point out how he went out of his way to praise and thank his crew after the race.

And what’s so new about his yapping on the radio about car conditions anyway? Y’all ever heard Kenseth on the radio when his car is junk? Now, that’s a world class whiner….:)

M. B. Voelker
05/12/2008 12:03 PM

Good point, JR!

I guess all those people who are Shocked! Shocked! that Kyle was complaining about his car have never listed to the drivers’ radios before.

Its almost like that old joke about politicians — How do you know a driver is whining about his car? He’s using his radio.

From the reports I’ve been given, Rusty Wallace is the absolute champion at cussing out his crew but their own, dear, beloved Dale Jr. has also been known to blister his crew’s ears on many occasions.

And all Mark Martin fans know that a plaintive cry of, “I just can’t drive this thing,” is often followed by a pass for the lead.


05/12/2008 12:33 PM

Kyle came within a whisker of wrecking Biffle. The Fox crew again credited to the wing on the COT for helping a driver—the Biff this time—avoid disaster. Still, that was one heck of a save.

And if Shrub Lite had wrecked the leader two weeks in a row and had gone on to win this time…. Hoo boy!

Ken in Va.
05/12/2008 01:25 PM

Kyle Busch has almost turned me back into a NA$CAR fan. I’m so sick of the corporate representatives pretending to be drivers, I could puke. Kyle reminds me of a young Dale Sr. NO holds barred, win at any cost and to h*ll with what people think.

Ed Harper
05/12/2008 01:58 PM

After listoning and and reading about how Jr. Nation, drivers and announcers are whining about there boy not winning I guess the only thing to do is for them to stop 2 laps before the checker at the next race and let Jr. win so that we can get on with the rest of the season. Also If Jr. was any kind of driver he never would have let Kyle get to the inside at Richmond.

05/12/2008 02:16 PM

To those who compare Kyle to Dale Sr.:

Look where Dale Sr.‘s driving style got him DEAD!
Sure he had won 7 championships BUT he lost sooo much more and so did his family.

All we can hope for with Kyle is that he doesn’t end the life of another driver and or himself.

05/12/2008 05:54 PM

Connie, Dale Sr. did not die because of his driving style. It was everyone racing hard on the last lap of the Daytona 500, there was accidental contact, and he hit the wall going 180 mph.

Mike In NH
05/12/2008 06:28 PM

As I said elsewhere, he had the cajones to flip off the 88 crew when they came up to the pit wall and jeered at him before the race, then go out there and blow everyone’s doors off. Now that’s a racer. Yeah, he could learn to take the blame for his mistakes better, but it’s great to have someone stirring the pot in NASCAR again. And I love that he just feeds off the jeering, and not get intimidated. Great drama.

05/12/2008 09:02 PM

Connie, Dale sr. died because the head and kneck protection was optional at that time and he opted not to use it.

05/13/2008 10:19 AM

He died because he was blocking like crazy to hold his position and was tapped. Which was being aggressive. What does it matter that it was “racing hard on the last lap?” Sure the head and neck restraint being mandatory now along with soft walls and now the CoT car the drivers are more protected. But the bottom line is: If he had not been blocking HE WOULD NOT HAVE WRECKED. Yes it was an accident but aggressive blocking caused it. Nascar now days will send a msg to drivers to stop blocking.

And believe me when I say it was one of the 2 times I have seen my husband shed a tear.


Contact Tom Bowles

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