Strange bedfellows (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday August 7, 2007 2:07PM; Updated: Tuesday August 7, 2007 2:07PM
That's not to say Gibbs won't provide his new talent with top-notch support and the equipment he desires after having driven the best the sport has had to offer. Gibbs Racing has won two out of the last five Cup titles -- both with Stewart. In Denny Hamlin it boasts last season's Rookie of the Year and current title challenger to Jeff Gordon. That makes Busch No. 3 on the totem pole -- not exactly the situation most thought he would accept after being third in line at Hendrick -- but that doesn't mean he can't be successful. A possible move to Toyota positions Busch as its star of the future, with the youngster expected to peak talentwise just as the Camry reaches full potential. With the right combination of crew chief and engineering support, Busch could easily be a title contender with Gibbs in 2008.
In the end, though, the biggest key to Busch's future will be how he gets along with Stewart. The relationship between two of NASCAR's most aggressive personalities has been a roller coaster ride since Busch burst onto the Nextel Cup scene in 2005. Most of the bad blood occurred last season, when Stewart became angry with Busch's driving style on several occasions. It peaked with an incident at Las Vegas in which Stewart tried to rile the youngster into spinning out. While their animosity has cooled a bit, their dislike for each other popped up again in February, when Stewart made a very visible bump to knock Busch out of the way to win the Bud Shootout.
"I guess he got tired of reading Carquest or something and decided to get me out of the way," Busch said after the race. "It was clear as day on TV; I just saw the replay. The only bad part about it [is] he's the guy who complained we were going to kill somebody out here."
Assuming Busch and Stewart put their differences aside -- and that's a big if -- Busch will still be forced to do a lot of growing up on his own. Can he do it? It won't be easy. For example, his brother, Kurt, has appeared to grow by leaps and bounds since joining Penske Racing in 2006, but he's still prone to making mistakes, as June's $100,000 fine and near-suspension for running into Stewart on pit road suggests. Kurt has, at least, a teammate in Ryan Newman who won't cause him any off-the-track problems.
At the moment, his younger brother can't say the same for his new organization.
One always hopes these types of moves work out for the best, but common sense tells me coach Gibbs will need plenty of frequent flyer miles next season, as there will likely be more than a few emergency meetings needed to keep his team on the same page.
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