The Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday July 17, 2007
“You better not try to stand in my way
As I’m a walking out the door,
Take this job and shove it
I ain’t workin’ here no more.”
-Chorus to "Take This Job And Shove It", by Johnny Paycheck
Those lyrics immediately came to mind when digesting the recent bizarre behavior exhibited by Kyle Busch. While his public statements aren’t exactly as outlandish as, say, Tony Stewart accusing his teammate of backing into him at 200 MPH, they do give one pause for reflection: What the heck is up with this kid? It doesn’t appear he’s trying to make the best of a difficult situation, wooing a sponsor, or attempting to audition for his next ride.
He looks like a guy trying to get canned from his job instead of quitting, just so he can collect unemployment.
To Kyle’s credit, he has maintained a modicum of decorum over the last few weeks, taking a well-earned break from rearranging the body panels of every car in the No. 5 team’s inventory. Since the announcement of his departure from Hendrick Motorsports after 2007 this June, Busch has responded; on the Cup side, he’s snagged four Top 10 finishes in the last six races, finishing with no results worse than 13th place. A particularly strong outing in the Daytona Busch Series race two weeks ago was especially remarkable, as Kyle dominated the event in his Delphi Chevrolet en route to a trip to Victory Lane.
That thrill of victory – and respect of his team – came to a screeching halt for Busch during the Nextel Cup race later that evening. After doing his best impression of Mark Martin getting nipped at the finish line, the young man could have continued the charade of a lame duck employee by simply conceding defeat, thanking the team and sponsors, and focusing on the next race in Chicago.
But he didn’t.
The first person to draw Busch’s ire was Jeff Gordon. Initially upset with getting little in the way of help the final few laps from anyone other than his brother Kurt, Kyle approached Gordon as he was preparing to be interviewed on television. What looked to be a simple friendly wave from Gordon following a pat on the shoulder from Kyle quickly degenerated into a deleted scene from "Fatal Attraction" instead. Busch was taken aback that Gordon didn’t stop the television interview to talk to him. After all, Greg Biffle had done so in the past…why not Jeff?
Seems the only thing missing was a broiled bunny in the mailbox and Kyle screeching, "I will NOT be ignored!"
Jilted lover Busch was further incensed that both the Nos. 24 and 48 were nowhere to be found in the closing laps. While it is true that Jeff Gordon was tucked neatly behind Jaimie McMurray with a few laps to go, Gordon was, in fact, trying to win the race, not play “Mikey and Junior” from 2001 just to get his teammate a win. Jimmie Johnson was also shuffled out of line, and anything short of a 150 HP shot of nitrous oxide was not going to get him to the back of the No. 5 by the end of the race.
In response to what he believed were treasonous acts, Busch declared, “I’m not helping anybody but myself and this team winning races. I’m not helping Jeff Gordon. I’m not helping Jimmie Johnson or Casey Mears. They are able to go back and see what I run and that kind of stuff. But for me, it’s just to go out there and to try to win races and keep winning with my name.”
He has also made comments suggesting that if his car started blowing engines, he would realize something was up.
Uh, yeah. I guess so, Fredo. Didn’t you learn never to take sides against the family?
It gets worse. During the USG Durock 300 Busch race at Chicagoland, crew chief Alan Gustafson made the call to pit while leading during a late-race caution. Busch voted to stay out, as eventual winner Kevin Harvick would do. The new rubber was of little use while mired in traffic, and Busch was only able to make it back up to 5th position. When asked afterwards of how he and Gustafson would rectify future differences of opinions, he was very curt with his reply: "We only have about four more months to worry about that."
Guys going through a divorce are less testy than this kid.
Although Kyle has ceased the practice of heaving his head and neck restraint at passing cars on the track, he has taken to making both cryptic and overt remarks regarding the team he is still contracted to drive for, one who pays him quite a hefty salary to do so. Even Rick Hendrick, who normally doesn’t comment on driver dissatisfaction issues (mainly because he never has to) stated matter-of-factly, "It just doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re working as hard as we can."
This scenario would leave one to conclude only one thing: Busch is trying to get himself fired.
There is nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose, and Kyle Busch appears to be "that guy." Like the Germans in full retreat during World War II, he’s going scorched-earth; pulling up the railroad spikes, setting towns ablaze, and blowing up every bridge between him and anything remotely related to the Hendrick organization.
The funny thing is, what happened to the 22-year-old shouldn’t have been a surprise; Busch has known for quite sometime that he was the odd man out at Hendrick Motorsports. He’s not tight with Jeff or Jimmie, nor does he fit the mold of what we’ve come to know as a Hendrick driver. He does in the sense that fans boo him unmercifully. He’s even accepted that, saying, "My perception has been horrible since I came into this sport, so it doesn’t even really matter any more."
Those are comments from a man who’s truly on the edge.
As with any employee that is nearing the end of the line, there is always the fear that he may become a cancer within the organization. Well, Busch has left nothing to doubt by publicly airing his dirty laundry, lambasting the ownership, his teammates, and now his crew chief.
In the process of solidifying his persona as a petulant and arrogant twentysomething, Busch is also creating a distraction for a race team that has since seen two of its top assets in Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte sent home for six weeks, their teams docked 100 points each for serious infractions. In the midst of the summer meatgrinder leading up to The Chase, as Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Roush Racing are gaining momentum, Busch mouthing off and whining is what’s only going to put his own team further behind.
You can almost hear Kyle’s desperate pleas from here: "Come on, Rick…fire me. You know you want to…come on…it’s only going to get woooorrrrse…"
Now, it’s no secret that the Busch Brothers aren’t exactly the front runners in T-shirt, hat, and diecast sales. However, whereas Kurt has a clever way of employing adjectives, superlatives, colloquialisms, and other overenunciated ten cent words when conveying his displeasure, Kyle is blunt. In his opinion, the car of tomorrow "sucks." His motors are going to "start blowing up."
And clearly, Jeff Gordon isn’t nice like Greg Biffle.
While there may be a method to Kyle’s madness – an attempt to gain an early release from his contract to start anew – his actions are doing little to endear himself to already irritated fans or potential sponsors. Getting the pink slip from HMS might sound like the best idea ever at the moment, but it very well could backfire on him if he doesn’t start acting with a certain degree of decorum. With that in mind, there is some irony for the way Busch is acting in that his pit board sign is Kyle from the animated comedy, "South Park". To quote Cartman, one of Kyle’s friends with whom he is less than chummy:
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