Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday July 4, 2007
At the age of 22, Kyle Busch has already had more on-the-job drama and been required to make more serious career decisions than most race car drivers twice he age. And to date he has been ill-equipped to properly deal with the off-track demands that have confronted him. But now, for all-intents-and-purposes having been fired at Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the premier NASCAR organization, Kyle Busch once again finds himself having to make critical decisions concerning his future in stock car racingâ€¦and this time he needs to get it right. The tolerance he has been granted due to his inarguable talent as a driver has about been exhausted. It is time now for Kyle to grow up, lose the attitude and carry himself as a professional appreciative of where he has gotten to date.
There is a general belief, particularly among non-fans, that the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race often displays immaturity and arrogance, as well as possessing a certain sense of entitlement. This opinion has served to create a substantial anti-Kyle Busch sentiment among not only fans of the sport, but some competitors as well. An undesirable perception eerily similar to that his older brother, and 2004 Cup Champion Kurt Busch has likewise saddled himself with. Charges that when more closely scrutinized seem possibleâ€¦and explainable.
Kyle Busch has every reason to believe that he IS entitled. Because he has been! What he has been taught since at least age fifteen is that if he wants it he can have it. And even more distressing is that his lessons since at least his teenage years have included courses in, "rules don't apply to Kyle Busch."
The story is an old one, but warrants revisiting: As a 15-year-old it was discovered that Kyle, with his father's assistance, had been deceiving track officials in and around Las Vegas, NV. concerning his correct age. At the time Kyle had been campaigning Kurt's old NASCAR Grand American and I.M.C.A modifieds. Tom Busch, father to the Busch brothers, presented local NASCAR officials with what turned out to be a forged birth certificate when challenged as to his earlier claims that Kyle was 16-years-old, the minimum age requirement to compete in those sanctioning organizations.
When later interviewed by local reporters about the bogus document and asked for an explanation as to why he perpetrated the deceit, his answer was, “I guess I shouldn’t have said he was 16,” and then added, apparently with concern as to what others might think of his actions, “I don’t want to look like a felon who doctored up car titles. I just wanted Kyle to become a better (racecar) driver.” Apparently clueless as to the kind of poor example he had set for his son in respect to truthfulness and respect for rules.
And then, instead of acknowledging the wrongness of his actions, or offering an apology, he rationalized that, "By saying Kyle was 16 a year earlier than he was to get him some seat time makes me wish I had the money to (go to a track where he could) run a different division where age is not such an issue", offered the elder Busch.
Tom Deery, a NASCAR vice president who oversaw the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at the time commented on what the likely punishment meted out to Busch would be, “The first punishment would be to lose their ability to compete with a NASCAR license immediately.” And then Deery added, “(Beyond that) there’s nothing prescribed. A lot depends on the circumstances. I’d say the first issue we have to question the parent about is what they’re trying to teach a child when they change a birth certificate. I don’t know if that’s the best lesson you want your children to learn.”
Rest assured Mr. Deeryâ€¦ it is not!
But apparently having been caught red-handed by lower level NASCAR officials of lying and presenting falsified documents to the sanctioning body was no big deal. Just months later, now 16-years old, Kyle Busch was competing in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series, driving for his big brothers team owner, Jack Roush. Kyle's underage accomplishments in the modifieds, as well as his success in the Legend division since the age of 13 had people buzzing that he may be every bit as talented as his older brother, who was impressing Roush, and NASCAR as a whole with his tremendous abilities. Roush, deep-pocketed, and with a nose for talent entered into a development agreement with Kyle's parents to develop Kyle as a racecar driver.
But the younger Busch's development plan, utilizing the Craftsman Truck Series was interrupted after six CTS races when NASCAR mandated minimum age restrictions for all its touring series of 18-years-old. Leaving both Busch and Roush with the choices of delaying Busch's development for almost two years, or finding an alternative race series to gain Kyle more wheel time in stock cars. It was decided that the teenager would compete in the American Speed Association (ASA), a short-track race organization that helped to hone the race skills of Roush superstars Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth in their earlier years. Roush then funded an ASA team for Busch in 2002, where he gained valuable experience and finished eighth in driver points that year.
All plans were go, as it was understood that sometime after turning 18 in 2003, the Roush and Kurt Busch partnership would return to the Craftsman Truck series. At which time they would develop Kyle through that series, as well as the Busch Series with hopes of eventually competing in the Nextel Cup Series. A well thought out and methodical process to allow Kyle to gain the experience and knowledge required of a young man on track to compete in the most demanding auto racing series in the country. The plan seemed wise considering Kyle's youth.
But surprise! Shortly before Kyle's eighteenth birthday he announced that he had changed his mind with regards to racing in the big leagues for Jack Roush. He would be going Busch Series racing with Hendrick Motorsports. Citing as a reason for his decision, not wanting to race in the shadow of his by then, successful big brother at Roush racing. However, cynics have suggested that Hendrick no doubt enticed the youngster with a quicker path to the Cup series. A more expeditious plan than Roush had mapped out for him. The Hendrick career plan would have him bypassing the CTS, and stopping only briefly in the Busch Series on his way to NASCAR's top division.
With Kyle's recent unexpected availability next season, and the much publicized tumultuous and controversial tenure and eventual defection of his brother from the Roush stable in 2006, a reporter recently asked Jack Roush if he would be interested in signing Kyle for 2008. I have no information as to whether that reporter was able to enunciate the question without giggling or not, but Roush's answer certainly was predictable. "I’m not interested in Kyle Busch,” Roush said. “I’ve been there and I’ve done that. No, I don’t care to elaborate." And there seems to be no need for Roush, given his checkered history with Kyle and the Busch family in general, to say more.
Talent or not, the younger Busch brother has burned some pretty big bridges in the NASCAR community. Roush and Hendrick have far reaching business relationships within a lot of NASCAR shops. Those shops need not bother to call either one of them seeking a positive job recommendation for Kyle. Joe Gibbs Racing, the third of the premier championship team owners in NASCAR will not even offer a comment on Kyle as a candidate for a driving position. A silence that alone speaks volumes on their negative view of the young man.
Kyle Busch has been thrust into a demanding role as a high profile driver in the elite ranks of NASCAR. His maturation rate has not yet caught up with his rapid ascent through the ranks. He is still in some ways a kid being asked to conduct himself as a polished adult. He does try, but not knowing how; his efforts often fall short of his intention to be thought of as confident young man and are instead viewed as arrogance.
Still, Busch will be given further opportunities to drive quality equipment in the future. Among those reported to be courting him are Richard Childress Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Ganassi Racing, Ginn Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. All still apparently believing that Kyle's emotional development can catch up with his inarguable talent behind the wheel.
“If you make a simple comparison, it’s not like the kid’s Mike Tyson,” Said Ray Evernham, a team owner interested in signing Kyle Busch. “He’s not out grabbing women and doing drugs. He has a temper, and he says things once in a while. To me, that’s not really a bad thing.
“It’s hard to take a guy you want to be total fire and drive that thing on the line every minute, and then expect him not to be emotional. You’ve just got to try to help somebody like that control his emotions.”
But NASCAR isn't professional Boxing, the NBA or even the NFL. The sanctioning body, sponsors and fans expect far more from their athletes than virtually any other sport in America. Kyle Busch is not consistently conducting himself up to that standard. And he needs to get there quickly. Really, how many more chances will he be afforded?
Evernham is correct; Kyle Busch is not that bad. But he does need help as he continues to grow emotionally. The next team owner that signs the young man needs to be mindful of that fact and be prepared and committed to helping the young man become truly a man.
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