NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: Busch Bashing Justified Jeers or Just Sour Grapes?

Kyle Busch has had an eventful past few weeks, getting more airtime and mentions than any show on SPEED in what seems to be a constant loop of public disaffection.

In Bristol, he swept all three races in the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, a feat that was heralded by many in the media as historic – and by his detractors as hysteric. Along the way, he accomplished the feat by turning a hapless Jennifer Jo Cobb, a less-than-guilty Brad Keselowski, then got in some verbal digs on what was a writhing and wretching David Reutimann that weekend in the media center following his victory lane celebration.

The next week, Busch was serenaded by a chorus of less-than-enthusiastic fans at Chicagoland Speedway following his victory in the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 Truck race, which he noted in his winner’s circle interview – to their continued displeasure.

But the kicker came following last Friday’s Built Ford Tough 225 Truck Series race in Kentucky, where Busch was the object of a “dirty driving” blast by eventual winner Todd Bodine. It was the icing on the cake to a Bristol “diss” we’ve all heard about 1,000 times now, Keselowski’s “ass”essment of Busch following his driver introduction at Bristol Motor Speedway. Clearly, on a public perception level the younger Busch has seen better days, even with his rebellious history of getting fans to rally against him using any means possible.

But what we haven’t heard or seen is a cadre of drivers, team members, or fans who do not sport No. 18 gear rush to the defense of Busch. His prickly demeanor and antagonistic actions to everyone have continually placed the 25-year old driver in a poor light with many in the sport who count the most.

That isn’t to say that Busch isn’t talented or worthy – far from it. We have all seen his talents behind the wheel, and are reminded of it ad nauseum during any Truck Series or Nationwide event where his Truck or car dominates the race. With his 10th win of the 2010 season at Bristol, Busch tied Grand National legend Sam Ard for most wins in a season, and had Busch competed in all the events this year, he would most assuredly be working towards a second consecutive title – or setting up for an epic championship battle with Keselowski.

Beyond that, how many people his age do you know that have started their own racing team and been this successful right off the bat?

Busch is bank rolling the effort largely out of his own pocket – an assertion he made when I spoke with him this April by revealing, “If something happened to me today, I’d have nothing to retire with.” He gets big points for being bold, brash, and ballsy – but seemingly undoes any goodwill just as quickly with the same smarmy attitude and snide remarks that have conspired to derail him in the past. And while the soundbites might be funny, they specifically deflate opportunities to contend and contest championships at the Sprint Cup level.

His quick wit and sharp tongue may serve as a machete to slice through most of the tired and trite answers and soundbites that are routinely regurgitated on a weekly basis in the media center and press releases, but they also conspire to lessen the recognition of his accomplishments and those who have helped to propel him to this success.

Following his unrepentant spinning of Keselowski in the Bristol Nationwide race, Busch took the position that because it was Keselowski, the retaliatory actions he took – for an incident that was no more Keselowski’s doing than either of Carl Edwards‘s exploits off the nose of Brad’s Dodges at Atlanta or Gateway – were right and just, simply because it was Brad Keselowski.

The belittling continued following his Sprint Cup victory when Marty Smith of ESPN questioned him regarding racing around Keselowski, to which Busch shot back a terse “who?” when Brad’s name was mentioned. Smith tried to play upon the remark by repeating the Penske driver’s full name, along with the car number, one that did not draw any amusement from Busch.

Those comments preceded the line of questioning regarding the contest with Reutimann in the final laps, when Busch criticized Reutimann for not driving the .533-mile track correctly. Kyle then took issue with a reporter’s response to his answer by reiterating his statement.

“He wasn’t driving the place right, I’m sorry. He fixes how to drive this place, he’ll be right there with me,” which preceded his qualification of a “less formal” comment moments earlier: “Well, I got ‘Oooohhhhh‘ because it’s going to be a ‘big deal ‘ in the ‘media‘… Jesus…”

I guess you can chalk these incidents up to little more than a coincidence, since I’m referencing it here now. Or would it be irony? Either way, Reutimann offered this response to Kyle’s critique of his performance a couple of days later on Sirius XM NASCAR with host Dave Moody – one that was done while battling a nasty bout with food poisoning race weekend.

“I’m sure in his mind he is, but let’s cut to the chase: he makes a comment like that after the race, he’s not driving my frickin’ racecar and I‘m not driving his,” Reutimann said. “Every driver has to do different things inside their car to make it do what it needs to do because technically a lot of times a car’s not perfect, so you have to do things differently. Sometimes your car won’t do what another guy’s car will.”

“I don’t know if it’s the fact that Superman’s cape was flying out the back when I was behind him, and I couldn’t see what the deal was (as) the reason that I couldn’t pass him. Either way, we ran second. We got beat fair and square, that’s what it came down to. We just got outrun. But again, Professor Busch, maybe he can start a driving school at Bristol and the rest of the field, we can all join in and go. He can show all of us what we‘re doing wrong. I need help.”

“If Kyle says it, it’s gospel. It’s probably the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard anybody say at any given time because everyone’s cars drive exactly the same,” Reutimann added with a tinge of Busch-esque sarcasm. “Everyone’s cars are identical. Nobody’s cars drive any different, so the guy who wins does a phenomenal job and the guy who finishes 43rd is just terrible because every one of the cars are identical. They drive exactly the same.”

Reutimann then conceded what was becoming apparent, and what a growing list of drivers and even more fans are beginning to be more vocal about – an issue with Busch as a competitor.

“It all comes down to the fact that we just don’t like each other very much,” Reutimann said. “It has been a while. We just don’t like each other, and we agree we don’t like each other and we’re both fine with it.”

What continues to puzzle many is that for Busch, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s one thing if you are disliked for winning a lot – i.e., Jimmie Johnson – but it is quite another when it coincides with intentionally wrecking other drivers, tearing up equipment and displaying little regard or remorse – not even slightly feigned.

Couple that with continued shock and disbelief that others may take offense to your actions and comments, and it illustrates again why Busch has one more barrier to overcome before he will truly contend for a championship and exhibit the qualities of a champion. With the Chase starting following this weekend’s race at Richmond, that is an obstacle unlikely to remove itself anytime soon.

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