Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Kyle Busch’s Crimes Against Humanity

I know it has been beaten to death a million times over and drug around like something out of Weekend at Bernie’s, to the point that if another article was never written about Kyle Busch’s timeout and two-race sponsor self-suspension by M&M’s it would be fine with the motorsports community. Everybody would be fine with it. So what better time than for me to emerge from self-imposed exile to put in my two-cents after Busch has been beaten about like a piñata in the media for the past two weeks.

First off, what Kyle did was wrong. Using your rig as a weapon isn’t right, particularly when the catalyst for the incident was literally an accident by the other guy. I will say, however, had it been another Cup driver in that same situation, they would not have been benched for the weekend, and their Cup sponsor would not have been sternly shaking their head in disapproval.

If there has been a recurring theme this season with a pair of drivers and owners that simply have zero use for each other, it is the triad of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress.

From the incident at Darlington in the Southern 500 where Harvick and Busch exchanged shots on the track – with Busch connecting with his hook where Harvick missed – to the resulting ghost-ride by the No. 29 into the pit-road wall, to Richard Childress removing his watch and speed-bagging Busch’s face plate at Kansas after what appeared to be an innocuous post-race rub to a RCR-owned truck, it has been these three at each other’s throats for eight months.

Harvick lamented a few months ago that he was not able to wreck Busch late in a race since he was warned not to by NASCAR. Busch turning a Harvick-owned truck that was in title contention into the wall late in the going at Texas two weeks ago probably did not sit well with the sanctioning body, who on the surface is preaching boys have at it, but also handles things differently behind closed doors when it appears to be getting out of hand. That has long been a hallmark of the sport since the days of the Benevolent Dictator and helps to maintain some semblance of sanity, something I take no issue with.

What I am having a problem with is this painting of Busch being evil incarnate because he wrecked a guy.

Many who are upset with the Kyle Busch – Ron Hornaday incident at Texas are upset because he wrecked him under caution. Uh, OK, so you’d rather have him get hooked at full-speed? Nobody seemed to care when Jeff Burton a year earlier executed the same move to Jeff Gordon under caution – while safety vehicles were on the track. Oh sure, that’s fine because Gordon pushed him for two seconds and they had to be restrained, and it made for a funny video highlight.

Carl Edwards didn’t receive any such admonishment from his sponsor after sending Brad Keselowski through the air roof-first into the wall in Atlanta or parked sideways on the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag at Gateway. Obviously, Edwards was not intending either outcome to end so violently, but was there any less premeditation or intent with any of these incidents?

I know, it’s Jeff Burton and he’s nice to everybody. So he gets a pass.

That being said, why is Brian Vickers still being allowed to run into things on the racetrack? Either he is single handedly trying to keep every body man and fabricator employed in the Mooresville area, or he has been tasked with thinning out the inventories at Red Bull Racing to tighten up the balance sheet for potential investors. Tony Stewart, Marcos Ambrose, Matt Kenseth and about five other guys at Martinsville have been the recipient of unsolicited silver paint treatment during the last month or so.

Is he any less lethal than Kyle Busch?

Kyle Busch’s personality appears to be an issue too. Much was made this year about new Kyle versus old Kyle. The real story should be “Real Kyle” versus “Made for TV Kyle.”

I recall the first time I went to MIS to cover a race weekend for Frontstretch. I saw a very enthusiastic Kyle Busch fan run up to him with a hat to sign. The guy pretty much shoved it in Kyle’s face and about picked his nose with a Sharpie. Kyle recoiled away, snatched the hat, scribbled something on it and flung it skyward – then sprinted to the M&M’s hauler. A few hours later he was in the media center, giggling and getting fake punched in the gut by Jeff Burton like an awkward adolescent.

This was before Busch’s PR representative was never more than five feet from him. Like the Air Force colonel who is never more than a few feet from the President with the nuclear football (i.e., launch codes), there is always a PR presence around Busch – as if he can’t be trusted to be himself as for what he might do or say.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. If he wants to tell me to **** off, that’s cool, I understand. I don’t like to be bothered when I’m working either. If I have a bone to pick with the guy who routinely takes shots at me in the press and whose car owner punched me, yeah, I probably wouldn’t have a problem taking out his car to prevent him from winning a championship too.

Any time Busch slips up, it is often exploited and magnified to me more than it truly is. This year Busch was busted for going 128 mph in a 45-mph zone. While you can’t really condone that, it was in essentially a racecar with license plates – a $375,000 Lexus LFA – which accelerates from 0-125 mph in 11.4 seconds.

Big deal. I went that fast in my ’72 Cuda before with absolutely zero information as to where the 15″ front tires were pointed through the four decades old, over-assisted Chrysler power steering. Later I went 30 mph faster in my Mustang Cobra with cords showing on the rear tires.

Everybody does stupid stuff. Kyle’s crime was he got caught doing it. At least he’s not Jeremy Mayfield-stupid.

M&M’s decided to sit out the last two races while Interstate Batteries is picking up the tab – and opportunity. It probably didn’t help that networks and other media outlets were running polls asking “Should Joe Gibbs Racing Fire Kyle Busch” which were returning better-than-50% results.

I seem to recall a few years ago that the same requests were being made of Richard Childress to do the same with Harvick. Jimmie Johnson did so following a crash in one of the Daytona Duel qualifying races in 2005. Which is kind of ironic seeing as GM Goodwrench and Chevrolet made a good bit of money cashing in on a certain driver who made a career and sold a good number of t-shirts out of turning people – championship contenders included.

So where does Kyle Busch go from here?

Hopefully, just on vacation. Joe Gibbs Racing would do well not to neuter or try to change him. He does seem to be the one driver in their stable with some gumption. Joey Logano’s efforts at being aggressive got his Dad banned from the track for a few weeks and nearly got him an ass-kicking from Ryan Newman. Denny Hamlin acts a bit too philosophical, and when you start admitting you’re seeing a shrink, you’ve pretty much exposed yourself as being submissive and easily screwed with before the green flag even drops.

This is a sport where guys used to come at each other with axles and wrenches after the race and the wives would keep a brick or a .38 in their purse. As much as NASCAR might not like the antics of Kyle – or his brother Kurt, they are both exactly what the sport needs right now. Polarizing people with personalities, who lose it, fly off the handle, explode into a rash of profanities and do dumb stuff while coming up with clever insults and smart-assed remarks. You know, like normal, regular guys.

Just so long as nobody gets hurt.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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