If the old expression that “everything before the word but is a lie” holds true, then the world of NASCAR journalists are lying an awful lot about Kyle Busch. And that goes for whether they are complimenting or excoriating the young man.
Some may think it appropriate that Busch brings out the BUTs in racing journalism, or that it’s fitting that articles about him are littered with BUTs. Probably without even intending to do so, Kyle has made himself the most infamous, polarizing figure in NASCAR, both for his success on the track and for his unapologetic demeanor – or arrogance, depending on your point of view – off of it.
The very enigma that is Busch stirs conflict in the minds and hearts of motorsports journalists. Frankly, it seems almost a requirement to add a conjunctive qualifier when describing his persona in any way. He’s a great driver, BUT he has an immature attitude. He has his arrogant ways, BUT he can wheel a racecar. More often than not, any observation of Busch includes both the positive and the negative from the author’s standpoint. It’s like a battery.
To illustrate this phenomenon, I’ve selected a few excerpts from columns in recent weeks by my colleagues in the field.
For the record, this isn’t rooted in any kind of lack of respect or empathy for any of these writers. Quite the opposite. They are hardly unique… search Jayski for Kyle Busch columns, and you’ll find similar assertions qualified with similar BUTs (or “on the other hand”s, or “whatever you may think”s, etc.). Emphasis on the BUTs simply reigns supreme when Busch is the topic of discussion.
One popular opinion about “Rowdy” Busch is that he is an enormously talented driver, BUT he hasn’t made many friends in the big leagues. It even sounds redundant saying that, but that’s the point… that no one seems able to say one without the other:
“There is no doubt about Busch’s success since he moved from Hendrick to Joe Gibbs Racing this season. He has three victories and is the current points leader. BUT it may not be success that is advancing his status as a disliked driver.” – Jim Pedley, Kansas City Star
“Fans may boo Busch, and fellow competitors may sometimes resent his style, BUT nobody denies he’s one of the most talented drivers in the sport.” David Newton, ESPN
Sometimes the “BUT” is replaced with a “WHILE,” just for variety… but that doesn’t escape the trained media watchdog eye like mine…
“Kyle Busch had been building “villain” momentum all season. WHILE having great success in all three major series, he also displayed what some called aggressive raw talent, and what others called recklessness.” Brian Watkins, Insider Racing News
Busch’s success on the track, as with any young driver who lights up the field, of course warrants inevitable comparison to the greats. Even this early in his career, some are comparing his driving style to Dale Earnhardt’s and his brashness to Darrell Waltrip’s. Reporters who do so sometimes advise old-school fans emphasize that Kyle’s personality is something that they have wanted more of in the sport for quite a while:
“You’ve gotta love that approach. No pabulum from this kid. Just abrasiveness and a heaping dose of attitude. BUT then again, that was Waltrip to a T in his early days in NASCAR.” – Mark DeCotis, Florida Today
Our own Matt Taliaferro articulated this well, with his colorful brand of adjectives and euphemisms:
“Yes, Kyle is young and brash, and isn’t afraid to swagger down pit road with a cocky air about him just before administering an ass-whoopin’ to the field. OK, I get how such an “ego” problem can rub some the wrong way. BUT the thing is, most of the greats had the same strut to them – and get the same results.” – Matt Taliaferro, Frontstretch
There is, of course, a flip side to this – others dispute, or at least acknowledge that fans dispute, any comparisons of Busch to legends like Earnhardt, Waltrip or even Tim Richmond. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; even these dismissals, though, include the “but, that said” caveat:
“Busch does demonstrate some of the same talent, driving style and aggressiveness as Earnhardt… BUT many Earnhardt fans can’t stand such comparisons.” – Jeff Owens, Scene Daily
“No one is suggesting Busch is the second coming of Tim Richmond, BUT there are some similarities – the driving style, the pure love of speed, the chances taken and the damn-the-torpedoes attitude.” – Mike Brudenell, Free Press
The contrasts with the icons of the sport aren’t limited to simple admiration for his driving style, either… still others chastise both Busch’s attitude and all-out racing intensity, sometimes inserting their BUTs with refuting comparisons of their own:
“Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart all wore the sport’s dastardly black hat at some point, BUT unlike Kyle, they all knew how to handle it, simply waving to the crowd, acknowledging the boos, and going about their business of rattling cages and winning races.” – Bill Whitehead, TC Palm
“[Jeff] Gordon said that Busch doesn’t want the role [of NASCAR villain], BUT that’s not the way it looks. After winning at Darlington on Saturday night, Busch played it to the hilt.” – Monte Dutton, AOL Sports
Speaking of Busch’s skill on the racetrack, that also brings out as many BUTs as everything else – it’s a contradiction of a different kind, one where he defies conventional motorsports wisdom and wins despite any and all debilitating obstacles thrown his way:
“Dropping to the back of the lead lap after that pit-road miscue, Busch fell victim to the team’s lugnut glue failing to stick together. BUT lucky for the team, this kid is superglued to the front these days, and his on-track maturity shined through as patience allowed him to work his way back to the lead.” – Tom Bowles, Sports Illustrated
“He was putting on a heck of a show, BUT you just figured he wouldn’t last all night long.” – Darrell Waltrip (describing Busch’s Darlington victory), FOX Sports
I’d like to take credit for having researched this exhaustively, but the truth is I didn’t have to look too hard to find BUTs inserted into any discussion of Kyle Busch. Finding them took about an hour, and that’s counting a couple that I tossed.
What is it about a successful and bold young race car driver that inspires such constant and befuddled ambiguity in professional writers? How can a 23-year-old young gun, still wet behind the ears in so many ways, cause even grizzled veteran racing columnists to inwardly fume and cuss about how to cautiously acknowledge both Busch’s ability and impetuousness? How does one explain this phenomenon?
I can think of a few reasons.
One is that, as a rule, writers don’t look to alienate large parts of their audience. Most of us probably aren’t going to praise Busch unequivocally after he takes out the sport’s Most Popular Driver at Richmond. But fans often want sportswriters to justify their opinions, or at least let them know that we share their passion. And comparing any driver to Earnhardt often provokes an immediate and fierce reaction; to compare this cocky young cowboy to the Intimidator would be treated as nothing short of blasphemy. Such ground should be trod on carefully, and only by long-established media members like Dave Despain, who had the nerve to do just that on Wind Tunnel.
Others out there may genuinely dislike Busch, perhaps because they are Junior fans or whatever other reason, or they may not like his driving style or his brashness, but they still have to rise above it and save their bile for an aliased comment on someone else’s article. People who write or talk about this sport are supposed to discuss the racing itself above all else, including personalities, and put their personal prejudices aside. For such writers, a BUT must be inserted into their essay to acknowledge Busch’s considerable ability – because no one who covers racing can realistically dismiss it.
And the last reason, that many won’t admit but that is indisputably certain, is that Busch gets into a racecar and races in a way that isn’t supposed to be possible. He passes three cars on the apron; when NASCAR tells him to knock it off, he moves to the outside and passes everyone there. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to lift, ever, even in the middle of a three-wide. He takes racecars that he describes as pathetic and promptly drives them to the front of the field. He even showed zero respect for Darlington, the Lady in Black for crying out loud… and forget the comparisons, I’ve never seen any driver get away with that.
I’m not going to try to buck this trend. For a BUT of my own: you can love Kyle Busch or loathe him, BUT one thing you can’t do is ignore him.
600 Miles of Kurt’s Shorts
- The Coca-Cola 600 is one of my favorite races of the year. Not because of LMS, or the three-day weekend, or even the honoring of the country’s heroes, although that’s a wonderful thing. No, it’s just the number: 600. I love the endurance test.
- Does anyone think Humpy secretly retired because he’s throwing up his hands and giving up trying to make the racing at his track viable again? Between the questionable surface and all of the issues the new car will surely bring, I figure I’d probably just take the money and run.
- As I said in Mirror Driving, I’m liking Carl Edwards this weekend. The No. 99 team seems to have figured out the intermediates with the new car, and who knows what has happened to the Hendrick bunch here. Of course, it’s a long race. We may see that Nos. 24-48 (with a nod to the No. 88) can return to the top again, and have everyone wondering where in the heck they’ve been lately.
- What do you suppose the Vegas odds are on a Casey Mears repeat? I expect they’re probably kinda long. But who knows? Maybe that old Memorial Day Mears Magic could kick in again.