The Frontstretch: Kyle Busch: The Sound of One Hand Clapping Drowned Out By A Million Boos by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday May 6, 2008

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Kyle Busch: The Sound of One Hand Clapping Drowned Out By A Million Boos

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday May 6, 2008


Saturday’s Crown Royal presents The Dan Lowry 400 was a relatively quiet affair… for the first 95 percent of the evening, that is. At that point, Denny Hamlin had led all but one lap of 382 circuits around the 3/4-mile speedway in front of his hometown crowd. It had been a fairly smooth race, save for the Patrick Carpentier (or as Larry McReynolds says, “Partrick Compartier”) pinball imitation on Lap 231, followed by Michael Waltrip’s parking after mistaking Casey Mears for a Demolition Derby contestant on Lap 356.

But how quickly things can change in this sport. On lap 383, it was Hamlin’s tire going the way of the dinosaur, eventually causing the caution that would bunch up the field in time for the last few laps. Just like that, several teams who’d simply been watching Hamlin dominate throughout the better portion of the evening suddenly became contenders.

That change of luck led to the real fireworks, ones which started as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch dueled fender-to-fender entering the third turn with just a handful of laps to go. The driver that Mike Joy has dubbed “Wild Thing” (but has deemed himself “Rowdy”) drove in a bit too deep, then started to lose control on the inside of Earnhardt. As he corrected his mistake, Busch did so right into the side of Junior’s No. 88; soon after, a legion of fans would wind up calling for the man’s head.

Let’s set the stage here: that contact was not intentional. It was simply good, hard, short track racing on the last lap that wound up going a little sideways — no pun intended. In fact, as Clint Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing team celebrated their second victory together, Childress himself agreed it was just a racing incident between the two — and that the fans got their money’s worth for the show they put on.

But as Bowyer and Childress claimed their trophy in peace, attention was turned to the possible war brewing between the principles involved in the late race incident. There wound up being no reason to worry; however, the markedly different way the two drivers approached the situation was indicative of how both competitors are perceived and received by the fans and media alike.

Upon exiting his damaged No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, Earnhardt was understandably dejected. All week long, he had been forced to endure the constant reminders that it had been two years since his last points-paying victory was scored at this very track. Most drivers involved in an on-track mess while riding that slump would have been understandably upset — and well within their right to direct a number of accusations and expletives towards the driver that took them out of contention for the win. Junior, however, was humble and modest in his assessment of what had just transpired.

“He gave me room off the outside of turn two, so I wouldn’t say that was intentional going into three, because if he had wanted to, he could have just thrown me in the fence off two,” Earnhardt said of the wreck. “We had been racing each other earlier and had no problems. I have done that before. That is what happens if Busch got loose underneath me. He almost cleared me off of two, but I got back side-by-side going into three. I tried to run him pretty tight running up top, and he just ran into me or got loose or whatever.”

Busch was actually quite contrite, as well, but not without a bit of the trademarked sarcasm that has traditionally been a staple of any Busch Brother soundbite.

Following Saturday night’s race, Kyle Busch stands in front of the media, giving his take of the events that made him the target of Junior Nation’s ire.

“Well, for some reason, they are awfully confused,” Busch said of the one hundred thousand extended middle fingers directed towards his second-place effort. “I was in second place, still. So, I don’t know whether that’s too many Dale Jr. Budweisers or they are AMPed up or what.”

“For me, there’s nothing you can say, absolutely nothing,” Busch surmised. “If I apologize up and down, even though it may or may not be my fault, it would not make a difference. Dale got wrecked; he should have had a win tonight — quote, unquote.”

Busch’s rant was all well and good; but he then continued on in the media center.

“I’ll say it again,” as the driver continued to play peacemaker in his head — all while ruffling feathers at the same time. “It’s just unfortunate circumstances for [Junior] because he didn’t get a win, and for me because now I’ve got to put up with it.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that last part — “I’ve got to put up with it” — is a microcosm of Busch’s perception among the vast majority of fans, even those who do not don the No. 88 or still have faded red and white No. 8 stickers on the rear window of their vehicles.

The knock against Kyle — and even that of his brother Kurt early on in his career — has been an air of arrogance that seems to pepper both statements and reactions toward other drivers — or even their own teammates — when something goes awry.

No one can deny that Busch is supremely talented. His ability to drive a car looser and faster than virtually anyone else in the field is a sight to behold. Far from just a wheelholder, he has a mechanical understanding of the car, a knowledge most drivers these days will never come close to comprehending. Unfortunately, his personality has never resonated with the majority of fans, the result of the attitude on display during the course of his few short years in the Cup Series. The sense of entitlement and the “world-revolves-around-me” approach to these situations is what makes many fans sneer and say, “Who is this guy?!”

Further evidence of Busch’s unenviable reputation was seen the night before in the Nationwide Series race. On the final lap, Steven Wallace made slight contact with Busch coming off of turn two. Wallace then faded high in turn three, while Busch drove back under him to capture third place. After the race, Kyle went over to confront Wallace as he sat in his car on pit road. While it is not completely clear what was said between the two, it was enough for Wallace to grab Busch by the helmet to get his attention. Afterwards, Busch was less than conciliatory, addressing Wallace as an “idiot.” Refusing to let the matter die, he made the remark that if Wallace races him like that in the future (…giving him a spot back?) he would hurt him — “wreck[ing] as many cars as I have to [in order to do it].”

Let’s get this straight; it was a slight wrinkling of Busch’s bumper, one of which that did not affect the result of his race, that was apparently enough for him to turn towards repeated character assassination for another driver on live television. It’s ironic that the same words were not voiced to Busch by Earnhardt in 2007 at Texas Motor Speedway, once Busch plowed into his car as it limped along the frontstretch following a spin.

In the scene that followed, Busch shrugged off any assistance of his crew and stormed away from his battered car that was in the process of repair; it was a move that set the wheels in motion for his release from Hendrick Motorsports. For as most everyone knows, it was Earnhardt, of all people, that was approached by Busch’s team to finish the race in their patched up car — after their driver was nowhere to be found.

Compare this behavior to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his newfound role with the No. 88. Yes, many fans tire of hearing about “June-yer” ad nauseam, but by placing yourself in his Adidas Nomex footies for a moment, you begin to see the contrasting attitudes between NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver and the man he replaced.

The son of a legend, Earnhardt, Jr. was thrust into the spotlight and forced to bear the weight of an entire organization — and in some senses, an entire sport — after his father’s untimely death in the 2001 Daytona 500. Ever since, Junior has repeatedly endured those who have questioned his commitment and talent, as well as decisions he made personally and professionally during the course of those last seven years. If there ever was anyone with a legitimate gripe to vent, it would be Dale Earnhardt, Jr; but instead, he has maintained a quiet humility in the face of relentless scrutiny from an ever-growing contingent of media, sponsors, and fans alike.

On the flip side, Kyle Busch has a tremendous amount of talent and a very long, successful career ahead of him. At only 23 years of age, he is in position to establish records and statistics that will rival some of the best this sport has ever known. If only there were a wrench one could turn to change that attitude of presumptuous arrogance that seems to surround his every comment and action. If so, Busch would not have to endure the chorus of boos that welcome him during driver introductions, or after legitimate racing accidents such as the one that occurred on lap 397 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday evening.

If such a tool existed, the singular digits being offered by the fans would most likely be of the thumb or index variety; but that’s not the appendage over that he became intimately familiar with Saturday night.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
ATHLON SPORTSBOWLES: Is Kevin Harvick A Hall Of Famer?
Racing to the Point: I’ve Got the Green-White-Checkered Blues
Beyond The Cockpit: Ron Capps Could Have NASCAR Stars Trying… Drag Racing?
IndyCar Driver Profile: Sebastien Bourdais
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Darlington – Off Week Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR Coverage Onto the Web
Voices From The Cheap Seats: NOTeworthy News


©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
05/06/2008 02:50 AM

Love him or hate him, at least Kyle Busch is exciting. Dale Jr acts like a double shot of expresso would put him to sleep. I guess that would happen to anyone with so much unneeded weight on his shoulders.

Mike in NH
05/06/2008 07:49 AM

It’s interesting, but if you watch the two racers in interviews, and you ask yourself which one looks happier, I’d say Kyle Busch. Why (aside from Dale not winning lately)? Because Kyle is still young enough and new enough not to have the weight of the fandom (some would say of NASCAR itself) on his shoulders, unlike Junior. I think that if it were anyone else, the expectations wouldn’t be as high, and I firmly believe it’s unfair to Junior to put as much expectation on him as his fans do. They should love him for being a very good man and a very good racer, and a classy guy, and let it go at that. Don’t act like he’s entitled to win or expect him to win every race. Bad breaks happen to him too, he’s not immune to them. Because ultimately he’s very much like every other racer out there – human. I think being son of The Intimidator is probably puts enough pressure on him to perform – to say nothing of the pressure he puts on himself. Give him a break. He will win again, and soon. In the meantime take consolation he’ll be a contender in the Chase this year.

As for Kyle, don’t forget his background – he’s 23, sure (and I know I had a fairly big stick up my butt still at 23 because I was young and still knew everything), but he was raised different than most of us. While we all did high school in four years, hung out with friends in the summers and after school, and in some cases went off to college by the time we were 23, he was pushing to finish HS in 3 years (a pretty remarkable feat) while spending all his free time at tracks and around cars so he could get where he is today. No time for friends. Translation: he still needs to learn the social skills that we all take for granted by that age, and boy it shows on occasion – like it did for his brother. Those will come with time. So we have a 23 year old who often acts much younger who also has incredible skills with a car (or anything else he chooses to race). That makes him a pretty unique and volatile mix, and frankly, I wouldn’t change him for the world because it’d be a lot more boring otherwise. I trust the other racers, NASCAR, and his owner-boss to deal with him if he gets too far out of line. It’s not the fan’s job to do that – throwing cans and fingers doesn’t help (glad I didn’t have a kid at the race on Saturday night that I’d be explaining that to). Yes, Kyle needs to grow up and get past growing up in his own little world, but he’s doing that, slowly but surely. I just hope he still speaks his mind once he’s done and doesn’t toe the party line – maybe Tony Stewart will rub off on him there, because honestly, when was the last time it was interesting listening to Kurt?

05/06/2008 07:51 AM

THANK you …its about time someone in the media called it like it IS in regards to the spoiled brat …could ya forward this to his head cheerleader D.W. ?

Travis Rassat
05/06/2008 08:38 AM

Mike in NH – I gotta say, everything you’ve posted has been really well thought out and well written. I couldn’t say it better.

05/06/2008 10:25 AM

What happened Saturday night between Jr. and Busch was just racin’ and it happens from time to time. No biggie.

What comes around goes around.

While I am ambivilent about the wreck, the Fox announcer’s act of fawning over Busch like he is the second coming of Dale Earnhardt is tiresome. He is not Dale Sr. and never will be.

Busch is a good driver – whether he becomes a great driver time will tell.
But I wish Mike, Larry and DW would get off of Busch’s jock.
It is nauseating and smacks of the “flavor of the week” type of publicity that those three are prone to succumb to.

05/06/2008 11:00 AM

Go to youtube, do a Kyle Busch search and see all the awesome “loose car” saves that he makes… the guys drives like Stewart in his prime. Right on the edge of insanity and when you are on the wheel like that, it has got to be like tooting up a bag of caffeine. Kyle is undoubtedly the most talented driver on the circuit and I am a Stewart guy. I love the brash, non-conformist attitude. The people that are prone to root for the unpolished guy who lets it all hang out will naturally be drawn to Kyle. If Carl Edwards stays true to himself, that is a rivalry that could match bad boy to bad boy (on the track anyways… Edwards would give Busch a boxers nose real quick).

Ultimately, I get Busch’s attitude about Jr Nation… I don’t think Junior likes Jr Nation… It is like a cancer or a piece of toilet paper you can’t get off of your shoe… the Jr Nation element is embarrassingly emblematic of the stereotype that has haunted NASCAR fans forever. I do not want to be grouped in with that… I have two masters degrees and decided that I would pick my own drivers without going with the flow… Jr Nation folks seem to be pretty dull in appearance and somewhat slow… “Hey… that guy over there is holding up his middle finger… I’m gonna do it too… duh… drool… “yo fifi get me a turkey pot pie.. and a buh-wisa… “ No thank you… I like Jr and I cant root for him because of these dolts…

05/06/2008 12:54 PM

to Steve. Wow, what an elitist comment from you. Its suitable for an arrogant person such as you to root for an arrogant driver like KB. I have degrees and am ALSO a Jr fan. Lumping everyone together like some amorphous blob doesn’t take a ton of intelligence. It’s ignorant and shows a total lack of class.

05/06/2008 01:30 PM

It�s ironic that the same words were not voiced to Busch by Earnhardt in 2007 at Texas Motor Speedway, once Busch plowed into his car as it limped along the frontstretch following a spin.

Incorrect – Shrub plowed into Dale Jr. after Junior had slowed for a spinning Tony Stewart. Tony made a huge cloud of smoke with his spin. Dale Jr., who was running 2nd, slowed to avoid hitting Stewart.

Shrub slammed into him, maybe he thought he was only car on the track. Who knows, but you don’t leave the track while the crew is repairing it.

It’s not so much the fact that Dale Jr. got wrecked bu Kyle yet again, it’s that Shrub never really accepts the blame. And he is so brash and condesending toward anyone who even taps his bumper, yet drives carelessly and wrecks many other cars & trucks. He never gets the fact that he drives without using his brain.

Denny also should have additional points taken away for intentionly causing a caution in order to change the outcome of a race. If Denny pits, the wreck does not happen. Pain and simple.

We Dale Jr. fans cheer for our driver because he is a great driver, and a Class Act all the way.

Mike in NH
05/06/2008 01:56 PM

Kyle never accepts blame?

“It was just a bummer deal — we were both just racing there. I apologize that that happened, and I hated that it did. And if I wanted to do it deliberately, I would have waited for the last lap where I probably could have still won the race. [Fans] were going crazy [in the stands] and you see it, but you don’t pay attention to it. I don’t know why they were telling me I was number one, I was in second place.” Kyle Busch, finished 2nd (at Richmond)

As for Texas, We can keep flogging him for something he did last year because that’ll always be there to flog him on, or we can move on. But I guess it’s part and parcel of being a designated bad guy that some folks will throw the hate at you no matter what; fortunately, it doesn’t seem to bother him. Maybe that’s why some folks get so bothered by it.

Mike in NH
05/06/2008 02:02 PM

Oh, by the way, I loved his “number one” comment (regarding the fingers being pointed at him) – probably spinned up the fans giving him the finger even more, which is what they deserve for acting like they’re on an LA freeway. ;)

05/06/2008 02:48 PM

Mike in NH – Read over your sentence again Kyle did not accept the blame he apologized that it happened. He did not say I’m sorry it was my fault. I have never heard it was my fault come out of his mouth have you really heard him after all these years say it was his fault?

I was up in the Commonwealth Tower surrounded by Jr. fans and did not see anyone giving the 1 finger salute. They were yelling/screaming a few things but no fingers. I think Busch tells a few stories either that or we were in the nice Jr. nation stands.

I like to look around in the stands and around the track to see whom is fans of who esp. in certain areas. I have yet to see a KB fan proudly wearing his attire. I thought I would at least see some M&M stuff on kids but no.

Denny had alot of course and also Sadler.

I agree that Kyle is basically still (the old saying) young and dumb. He can drive the wheels off a car but he needs some reins pulled on him. But not as many as Nascar pulled on Kevin Harick. They took to much fire out of him. Kyle makes no bones about the fact that he will wreck anyone for a win (after the NW race). That is not cool – he has enough talent to win without wrecking people on purpose. His brother had to also have the reins pulled in on him.

Any owner would rather come home with a 2nd place car than a wrecked car in the back of the field.

05/06/2008 03:20 PM

You know, we probably have the technology to design computers to drive 43 cars around a circuit, pushing them to the limits of tire pressure and track temperatures, transmit data back to the pits for the next pit stop, etc etc. However, nobody outside of MIT would watch because racing fans love the human element and how they work with their machines and pit crews to cross the finish line first.

I’m a Jeff Burton fan because I admire the way he keeps an even keel almost all the time, whether things are good or bad. At the same time, I don’t want every driver to be a Jeff Burton clone. I’d go so far to say that I wish we had a few more Kyle Busch’s out there. People with passion, and even arrogance make the mix interesting and give us something to talk about while waiting for the next green flag. I don’t ever want to lose that.
05/06/2008 04:02 PM

I agree with alison, on the remarks that steve made!
I think, the driver , that shoul be the most to blame ,is denny!!! what a cheap shot, to do that to jr.!!! you, can bet i will give him the finger and shrub. i always have been a fan og jr. and always will be and i am not an idiot, fan as steve seems to be. !!11

05/06/2008 04:37 PM

I am originally from Nevada and at first I was all for a home state driver, but as time went on his, lets say lack of car control, disreguards to drivers, and plain crap attitude has totally changed my feelings tward him. In my opinion he needs to go back to driving his go carts again and hopefully his attitude and driving skills will improve. Look what happened during the Nationwide series race, How was his attitude when he went into Steve Wallace’s pits? Kyle is two faced!

05/06/2008 07:10 PM

He looked like a scared rabbit when Steven Wallace grabbed that chin guard on the helmet. He actually ran backwards with them crap filled eyes as big as saucers. I have said it for the past few years and I will say it again. The Busch boys are only Bodine brothers in drag, or shall I say, just like a little bird, all mouth and full of

Kevin in SoCal
05/06/2008 07:36 PM

Mary4Jr88, remember back in Bristol 2004 I think it was, when DaleJr purposefully spun out his car to bring out a caution, and admitted doing so on his radio? I remember. Still think he’s better than Denny Hamlin?, Denny was simply trying to remain on the lead lap, for himself, not for Busch and not to screw DaleJr. Denny knew if he pitted under green he was definitely going down a lap or two, but if the caution came out, he could get fresh tires and make a charge. There’s no conspiracy here.

Sonny and Marc, I dont think Kyle was scared of Steven, but simply surprised that the guy grabbed his helmet and jerked him around. Kyle then pulled back and Steven let go, so Kyle went flying backwards. Your perception clouds the reality.

05/06/2008 08:19 PM

I would have loved to have seen Steven get out of that car in time to knock a few spuds off of “Mr. Potatoe Head”. Kyle should have a talk with Kurt about crossing the line with other drivers. I’m sure there are a few “old school” attitudes left out there. If BF stands by his words perhaps this punk will get straightened out like the fans middle fingers.

M. B. Voelker
05/07/2008 12:21 PM

If Kyle Busch has a chip on his shoulder and a tendency to get defensive its no wonder. People have been booing him for as long as he’s been in Nascar — just because he had the wrong last name and drove for the wrong owner. If his name was Kyle Smith and he’d started with Gibbs he’d be everyone’s darling.

Kyle knows he’s going to be booed at no matter what he does. So why shouldn’t he go for the win and not worry about being politically correct? That’s what fans and sportswriters have said they wanted — you hypocrites.

05/07/2008 08:44 PM

Kevin, your lack of perception prohibits your reality. I take it you are fairly new to racing and grabbed on because its cool. Do you know a dipstick from a tail pipe?

Kevin in SoCal
05/07/2008 11:06 PM

I’ve been watching and participating in drag racing for 20 years, but I’ve been a NASCAR fan for only 6 years. I work for a company that supplies engine parts to NHRA and NASCAR racers. My father and I built the engines in our drag cars. I do know a little bit of what I’m talking about. I call them how I see them, same as everyone else.

05/08/2008 12:08 PM

I also have been driving dirt track cars for several years at my local dirt track and if I would have acted/raced like Kyle….I would have expected to get my face smashed in after the race. So I also know a little about what they are talking about. All I was saying is what was the difference in his attitude/racing from the Nationwide series to the Sprint cup series. Oh, and he was upset that a crew member from Jr came over into his pits….what about when he went into Steven’s? That’s why I called him two faced.

05/11/2008 07:48 PM

I thought about this all last week and the sports media have to love KB for one thing it gives them and the fans something to get all rilled up about, without that it would have been a pretty boring race, and nobody would have watched “Wind Tunnel” What irritates me is when he screws up he’s too ashamed to admit it and covers it up with attitude.

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