Busch a man fans love to hate
So, how's everybody feel about Kyle Busch now? After a race in which he wrecked the most popular driver in the sport out of a win, it's become conventional wisdom that the Shrub has become persona non grata among racing fans. But let's be honest, not many people liked him before he tangled with Junior at Richmond in the first place. It's just that now they have an excuse to be loud about it.
As a novice NASCAR writer last year, I got an early introduction to the curious relationship between NASCAR fans and Busch. After the 2007 Daytona 500, I had the temerity to rank Busch seventh in the very first edition of my Power Rankings (a catalog of work, by the way, which pales in comparison to those produced this year by my colleague, Tom Bowles -- check them out, if you haven't yet). In response, I received exactly one e-mail, which contained a single question: What in the world was I doing including the jug-eared kid on the list when Kasey Kahne was nowhere to be found?
Now, to be fair, Kahne did finish seventh, but that was only after a wild wreck on the final lap that took out just about every car running in spots 3 through 10, including Busch, who had been drafting behind runner-up Mark Martin at the time. But why had the reader singled out Busch? As the season wore on, the answer became clear. NASCAR fans just don't seem to like a driver who is unquestionably one of the game's top talents.
Why? There are two primary reasons, I think: he's the brother of Kurt Busch, who's not winning any popularity contests himself; and he's got a chip on his shoulder that's as long as your arm ... probably because he started his career having to explain himself for being the brother of Kurt Busch. Whatever. There's also a well-documented history between Kyle and Junior that goes back at least to last season. And whether that history had anything to do with the accident at Richmond is, I think, highly debatable. But the atmosphere was definitely highly charged, and a spark has now been struck.
What's more certain is that Busch has the kind of talent that every racing fan should love. His car control is breathtaking. His never-give-in attitude can be stirring. And his aggressiveness (some might call it his stupidity), especially when it pays off, is exhilarating. Busch drives with the same attitude that seemed to motivate so many of NASCAR's earliest stars (including Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts): win, wreck or blow. It even hearkens back to the motto of a certain driver who's nickname was The Intimidator: Wide F---in' Open.
My guess is that, in time, Busch's churlishness will mellow. And as the wins pile up -- and there will be a defining victory sometime soon -- the contempt may even mellow, too. Let's hope so. For everybody's sake.
How to drive ...
David Reutimann talks about driving on the resurfaced Darlington track: "I think that it's going to be a big challenge for everyone. Anytime that a track is repaved it presents an obstacle for every team in the garage the next time we race there. What we do know is that it's going to be very fast. We've all heard about the guys that tested there and the speeds they were running going into turn three so that's going to be interesting. NASCAR is giving us some extra practice time on Thursday, so that's something every team will use as a mini-test session. To me this is where being inside the top-35 is so crucial for our team. Every team has a lot of work ahead of them this weekend so if you're concerned about making the race your focus isn't on adapting to the new surface, it's on just making the race. Being locked in, we have the ability to just focus on the task at hand and that's getting our UPS Team up to speed as quickly as we can."
3: Number of times Jeff Gordon has finished a race outside of the top 30 in 10 starts this season.
1: Number of times Gordon finished a race outside of the top 30 in 36 starts last year.
6: Number of points by which Gordon trails Kasey Kahne for 12th-place in the Cup standings.
September 1, 1958: Fireball Roberts wins the Southern 500 with a record average speed of 102.585 miles per hour. It is the last Grand National race run at Darlington, then NASCAR's fastest track, in the era before superspeedways (Daytona would open the following February).