Kyle Busch is not the most popular driver in the sport. There are people who would say he’s not the most popular driver in his family. But, whether you like him or dislike him as a person, one thing is undeniable: Kyle Busch is one of the best raw talents to come along in this sport in years. He set the record last year for the most combined wins in the top-three touring series in the sport, and this year became the first driver to win two touring series races on the same day. He also holds the record as the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race. All of those firsts and records could make a person cocky, but in Busch’s case, he can back it up.
During Sunday’s Cup race, Busch made a pass for the lead at the end of the race and keyed his mic as he passed Clint Bowyer. With a chuckle on the radio, Busch said “Say goodnight Gracie.” There is no doubt that there were people watching the race who thought that was arrogant. Whether it was arrogance or confidence, the younger Busch brother has every right to exude it. Busch is consistently the fastest thing on the track in whatever he gets into these days. If other drivers don’t like that, all they have to do is beat him.
This will most certainly be considered blasphemy by many hardcore fans of Dale Earnhardt, but Busch is probably the closest thing to the Intimidator the series has seen since the black No. 3 was tearing up the asphalt in the ’80s and ’90s. Busch drives his car as loose as anyone in the garage and as Robert Duvall said in Days of Thunder, “loose is fast.” Earnhardt ran his cars as loose as anyone and exuded the same confidence that Busch is these days. While most of today’s fans weren’t around when Earnhardt started in the sport, he was very similar to Busch in many ways. He was considered reckless by some of his fellow competitors; he was accused of driving over his head and not having patience. He was even known to do a little rubbin’, and rubbin’ is racin’.
The biggest difference between Earnhardt and Busch at this stage in their careers is that Earnhardt was not as confident in front of the microphone as Busch is. Earnhardt developed that ability as his career blossomed. In the modern world of NASCAR, that skill needs to be present from the beginning or drivers don’t get a chance to race in the big leagues. Unfortunately for Busch, that one difference is the thing that most of the fans seem to be latching onto as the character trait that they do not like.
Over time, there is a decent possibility that Busch will gain more fans and eventually be on of the more popular drivers in the sport. Rusty Wallace was viewed as an arrogant punk when he started in the sport. Tony Stewart was considered abrasive to say the least in his early years. However, as time moved along in their careers, both of those drivers grew in popularity with the fans and became more recognized as elite drivers in the sport. Busch is a plucky driver who is going to keep winning, and fans love winners. When he’s 40 years old, Busch could very well be one of the most successful drivers in the sport’s history and will almost certainly have a legion of fans. In the meantime, people will have to try and remember the words of the famous lyricist Kid Rock: “They say I’m cocky and I say ‘WHAT?!?!’ it ain’t braggin’, m@#$%^&*!@er if you back it up.”