Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: An Angry Kurt Busch Might Be Just What NASCAR Needs

Much has been said of late regarding the effectiveness of a certain team’s ability to put a fast car under its driver. Not much of this talk has been positive, especially when said driver Kurt Busch was speaking. And yet, look at who pulled into victory lane this Sunday. That No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge managed to snare the checkers in the AAA 400 at Dover, putting to bed all the anger and uncertainty that arose after Busch’s over-discussed radio transmissions from the weeks prior.

Now with two 2011 wins under their belts, this team which should have seen such success over the past five years, but rarely has, sits with four other teams not sporting the No. 48 and are well in reach of ending Five-Time’s reign. What an odd thought—and exciting.

Yes, Kurt Busch is a former champion, lending some credence to the idea of him hoisting the Cup in Homestead, but really believing that a second championship just might be imminent seems almost impossible. And yet, with a bevy of teams in the Chase seemingly trading paint and misfortune on a weekly basis, the possibility — however improbable — must be considered. So, we are left pondering what life in NASCAR would be like if Kurt Busch, the master of sarcasm and the brutal putdown, were to reign once again. Would this be a good thing for the sport?

For five long years we have been subjected to Jimmie Johnson’s pleasant smiling face, his perfectly delivered ads and a suspicious lack of drama from within his garage. Even as he notched one win after another and seemed bent on breaking a few records along the way, he and Mr. Knaus haven’t exactly gone about rewriting the rules. Instead, their mastery over the paved oval has had all the excitement found in buttered bread, almost plebian in its consistency.

While I’m sure more than one corporate executive has reveled in having such a nice boy as spokesman for the sport and numerous products, you can’t help but wonder if the constant downturn in attendance at races isn’t due in part to simple disinterest in its champion. Maybe a more abrasive personality leading the way just might put some butts back in those blindingly vacant stands.

Let’s think back on life before Jimmie, when Standing Room Only tickets were all that remained at many tracks. There was Tony Stewart, a driver never known for his polite tongue, and the year before that a wholly unedited Kurt Busch graced the headlines. Perhaps he wasn’t ripping apart his own team for their lack of ability, but he still managed to abrade nerves on many an occasion. Not one person remained stymied when his younger brother followed so well in those steps, he worked so hard perfecting the approach to being obnoxious.

And even before then, there were the years of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. We did not watch for the polite struggle between this pair, but for the inevitable clashes of skill and will.

Perhaps the much beleaguered Kurt Busch is not a current favorite, or even wildly hated, but with the return of his anger has come a certain amount of fan aversion toward the elder Busch. We’re not surprised at the vitriol spilling from his mouth, but it doesn’t leave a pleasant aftertaste in ours. We want his crew chief Steve Addington to yell back through the headset, or his over-the-wall to gang to go on strike. Like any train wreck, we’re unable to stop watching the inevitable carnage. Our emotions have been engaged, for better or worse.

Should Busch manage to poke and prod the No. 22 to the pinnacle of success this year, I have little doubt that he would provide far more soundbites in the ensuing 365 days than Johnson has in half a decade. We’d all have something to talk about, although those execs might cringe a little more often.

This isn’t about a fast car or lightning-fast reflexes or even a bulletproof team. It’s about what grabs our attention, compels us to turn on the TV or, heaven forbid, actually fork over the cash to head out to the track. NASCAR is more than auto racing. It’s a form of entertainment and the cast of drivers are what gives a faceless competition character.

Undoubtedly, we will always be told the winning team strives for perfection. However, when that has been achieved, little else remains for us to think about and our sport literally devolves into that mindless spin around the track. Hypnotized and dizzy, hordes of fans have been staggering away in search of more stimulating competition.

Not only has the return of Kurt Busch’s politically incorrect mouth lit a fire under the hood of that Penske Dodge, it has the potential to do the same to NASCAR as a whole.

Should we be blessed with a champ who focuses not on smiling at the camera week after week, but rather on getting what he hasn’t got, the fans will react. We’ll start talking, chattering, cheering and yes, giving Mr. Busch the good ol’ raspberry. However, after five years of stands that have grown quieter with each event, fan reaction of any kind can only be one great big positive for NASCAR.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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