NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: Kyle Busch – Who Else Is Sick and Tired of His Act Besides Me?

It has happened again. The destructive force that may ruin NASCAR as we know it has reared its ugly head once more.

No, I am not referring to General Motors joining Chrysler in bankruptcy – though that is another matter altogether that I will be addressing here in the in coming weeks – but rather another episode in the saga of Kyle Busch, resident crybaby of motorsports and burgeoning NASCAR bad guy.

What has precipitated this latest installment of The World Versus Kyle was the perceived last-lap incident between he and teammate Joey Logano at Dover, in the final laps of the Heluva Good! 200 Nationwide Series race. Heading into the final restart, Logano got a much better restart than he had in recent attempts. Busch spun his tires, which helped Logano get to his back bumper entering turn 1. Logano made an effort to keep from running into his teammate, as the nose of his GameStop Toyota visibly dove towards the ground while Logano jumped on the brakes to avoid the No. 18. But he still made contact with Busch, sending him wobbling up the track as Brad Keselowski sailed by both of them on the low side to score his first Nationwide Series win of the year.

After the checkered flag had fallen, the radio transmission from crew chief Jason Ratcliff was a directive to exercise restraint for both driver and crew. He probably didn’t need to tell his driver that, though… since he wasn’t around to hear it. The scene shown next was a familiar one: Kyle storming away from an abandoned vehicle, refusing to comment on what happened or offer an opinion on how another Nationwide Series race slipped through his fingers in the closing laps.

Key point here: Nationwide Series race. Not Sprint Cup. Not Formula 1. Nationwide Series – i.e., not your main focus.

If this was 2004, and he was driving the Lowe’s No. 5 and Lance McGrew (ahem…) was his crew chief, I’d understand. However, it’s 2009 and Busch has most recently been likened to Dale Earnhardt (Sr.), christened the driver most likely to dethrone David Pearson from second place in career victories. Instead, he is pissing and moaning and stomping off like Danica Patrick following a botched Double-A series engagement because – imagine this – a Goodyear tire went flat. It’s too bad that Busch no longer sponsors NASCAR’s junior series, because the best analogy ever would be to call this Busch League behavior; however, that would do much to discredit everybody’s favorite watered-down swill that tastes like horse urine.

Or, at least what I imagine it to taste like. I have no frame of reference… but I digress.

Yet while a Roadrunner-esque dust cloud was seeing trailing the golf cart that drove Busch from the garage area to his hauler – all so he could swap out uniforms, compete in another Camping World Truck Series event and blow another tire – Logano was beside himself, shaking his head, his voice quivering like a 10-year-old kid who just hit a line drive through a neighbor’s bay window. At the time, he didn’t know that yet another Goodyear tire had liberated itself of air at precisely the wrong moment, and neither did the majority of the fans in attendance, those listening on the radio, or the ones watching on television.

Of course, with Busch extenuating circumstances never seem to matter anyway. Be it Nationwide, Sprint Cup or Truck series, should Busch lose as the result of his own actions or something beyond his control, he runs away. Literally. The second the checkered flag falls, he pulls in, unbuckles, and breaks out like Usain Bolt to get away from anyone with a microphone or a tape recorder. It’s the same scenario we’ve become as familiar with as celebratory burnouts and post-race donuts – the Kyle Busch “Icing.”

All of this hiding actually began early on in Kyle’s career. Remember back when he won his second career race at Phoenix in 2005, the same weekend his older brother Kurt Busch was arrested for refusing a breathalyzer test and benched by Roush Racing? Somebody asked him about what happened with Kurt one too many times, and he stormed out of the press room.

That’s right; after just 41 starts and winning his second race, he pulled the plug on the post-race winner’s interview.

What, I wonder, has Kyle Busch really had to endure in his brief career that would cause him to act this way? Can you picture Mark Martin sprinting away, swatting at microphones or giving an insulting response to something as simple as, “what happened?” Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., who for the last three years has had to endure constant criticism, indictment and assailment of his ability, commitment and relationships within his own family still shows up, says what’s on his mind and takes it like a man.

Where, I wonder, was the indignation from Busch two weeks earlier, when he took out two Truck Series regulars for the lead at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, when he wrecked – perhaps intentionally – both Colin Braun and Brian Scott? Instead, he made the sarcastic and flippant comment, “Yeah, it’s my fault… I’m the idiot out here running 160 mph….”

When, I wonder, did he provide an apology to half the field at the 2007 Daytona 500 when he lost it all by himself and triggered a 30-car pileup? 15 months later, when he took Dale Jr. out at the spring Richmond race last year, Kyle made nothing more than a half-hearted apology – prefacing it with that he was feeling sorry for himself for taking out the sport’s Most Popular Driver.

Tito, get me a tissue….

These kinds of things have a way of working themselves out, I guess. Call it what you will – divine intervention, karma, or whatever Darwinian nonsense one could subscribe to – but it seems that the more Kyle Busch acts like the spoiled, pouty, 15-year old girl he is often criticized for acting as, the more these unexplainable foils continue to plague him… as they did in the Camping World Truck Series right after the Nationwide race.

I will be the first to say it: The whole, “I just want to win” excuse is tired, trite and has completely exhausted its usefulness. Every driver wants to win. That’s kind of the whole point of competition and putting numbers on the cars: to keep score.

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway, located in the town of Brooklyn, which is less than an hour from the backyard of the Big Three. (Well, with 2/3 of them now in bankruptcy and owned in part by the U.S. government for a foreign entity, I guess you could technically call them the Big One.) Anyways, the automotive epicenter of Earth was always seen as a major stop on the tour, and with recent events involving the largest company on the planet, this could be the last time it really means something.

So, before Busch does something to really turn the public against him, I would caution him about bringing his act to the Irish Hills. This is an area of the country that has been devastated by the current deteriorating economic conditions like no other. This is a state that is dependent on the auto industry on both coasts; the manufacturers and subsidiaries on the east side of the mitten, with suppliers and parts providers located on the west side of the state. Considering Michigan already has an official unemployment rate nearing 13% – a number that is sure to climb substantially in the coming weeks – having to endure the actions of a 20-something multimillionaire who runs away from his problems whenever ANYTHING does not go according to his desires is not going to be warmly received by anybody who follows the sport in this area or may be attending the race that weekend, looking for some escape from whatever harsh realities they have been enduring.

Much was made in the moments following the incident at Dover, since Kyle Busch has provided Logano with tutoring and advice as to how the Car of Tomorrow drives differently than the traditional car still used in the Nationwide Series. Well, perhaps there can be an equal exchange of information and mentoring at Joe Gibbs Racing moving forward. Kyle Busch can continue to help Logano get up to speed as a rookie in the Sprint Cup Series while Logano can teach Kyle Busch how to conduct himself with some respect, class and humility. That speaks volumes when you need to learn from a 19-year-old how to act like an adult.

It reminds me of that scene from Goodfellas, when they’re all sitting around at 3 a.m. eating at Joe Pesci’s mom’s house and she starts telling a story about a man who never says anything to anybody. A word describing the man is translated in Italian, which Ray Liotta doesn’t know, so Pesci clears it up for him:

“It means he’s content to be a jerk.”

Now, before you single me out as a “hater” (God, what a stupid word… anybody who uses that term has voluntarily lowered their IQ by about 20 points), or labels me a Martin myopian or Junior apologist, let me say that I actually really do like Kyle Busch. I think he is a talent unequaled, with a working knowledge of these cars and is not just a wheel holder – not to mention the charitable work he does that often goes unnoticed. Lately, however, he has started to achieve hemorrhoid status and become an inflaming irritant.

In closing, you’re 24, dude… lighten up. Wait until you get to be my age – then you’ll really have something to complain about. In the meantime, take a lesson from your 19-year-old teammate and protégé; lighten up, be happy that you’re there and realize that you’re getting paid millions to just turn left for a few hours. You aren’t trudging up a mountain pass in Afghanistan humping a 75-lb pack and you haven’t had to dodge IEDs in downtown Fallujah. Instead, you drive a bright-yellow clown car with cartoon candy emblazoned all over it around in a circle. If you don’t get done first, handle it like a professional, face the music… and realize that things could be worse.

You could live in Michigan.

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