Busch exactly what NASCAR needs; T.O.'s need for speed and more
In desperate need of a new personality, NASCAR should turn to Kyle Busch
Penske is facing sponsorship issues that could complicate its three-driver team
Terrell Owens teamed up with Arie Luyendyk at the Kentucky Indy 300
SPARTA, Kentucky -- If NASCAR wants to increase its television ratings, boost attendance at tracks and regain its stature in the media, then Kyle Busch has to be the driver who steps to the forefront and wins NASCAR's "Chase for the Championship."
He is the one driver who can bring interest back to stock car racing. Not because he is a good guy, but because he is a great driver who loves to be the "Bad Boy."
He's got more Dale Earnhardt in him than Dale Earnhardt Jr. does. He's ruthless on the track and couldn't care less what others think about him. In fact, hearing the crowd boo is music to Busch's ears.
NASCAR is a sport where the fans love the "Bad Boy" and Busch's personality is perfect for that role. And watching Busch on the track is like watching Michelangelo paint with a mop -- he may not be using a precision brush but he still turns out a masterpiece.
Busch can drive practically anything with wheels, whether it's Sprint Cup, Nationwide or the Camping World Truck Series. He proved that Friday at Kentucky Speedway when he was forced to start last in the field and quickly drove his way to the lead before pit stop strategy allowed Todd Bodine to win the race. Busch finished seventh. Afterwards, Bodine ripped Busch in Victory Lane. Busch heard the criticism and rushed over for a face-to-face confrontation with the race-winner.
"I thought that was kind of low, but that's how Bodine is," Busch said. "I was in the hauler changing and saw him spout his mouth off on TV and went straight over there and confronted him right then and there. I had to go, so when was I going to do it? I didn't have to go to the media center, so I didn't have a chance to battle there. I don't need to battle in the media; I'll just beat him on the race track.
"I don't feel like I'm a dirty racer. I feel like I'm a hard racer and an aggressive one. I wouldn't call it dirty. Dirty is when you run into the back of somebody down the back straightaway and put them in the fence."
This is what NASCAR fans want to see -- a driver who can dish it out on the race track and then throw it back in another driver's face if they don't like it. And this is what NASCAR needs to make the 2010 Chase interesting; not another Jimmie Johnson title that has all the excitement of a corporate board meeting.
So let's leave it to a man who is in a much higher tax bracket than me to assess the value of Kyle Busch in "The Chase." That is Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith. The racing visionary may be in his mid-80s, but Smith is as sharp as a whip when it comes to making billions and promoting the sport to the masses with his impressive racing facilities.
"Kyle Busch is one of the greatest race drivers I've ever seen and I think his record proves that," Smith said. "I'm surprised that 'Onion Head' [Bodine] wanted to do a word battle with [him] because I don't think he could ever win that. I'm crazy about it when drivers mix it up like that. I hope he says some more about Busch because I want to see how Kyle reacts."
Busch is a promoter's dream and Smith is the ultimate racing promoter. That is why it is important over the final 10 races of the season for Busch to become NASCAR's next superhero.
"He is the greatest thing going right now," Smith said. "He is the winningest driver [over three series]. He is more race-able than anybody. He is just the greatest thing that I've seen in a long time."
Three of Smith's tracks host Chase races, beginning with the first race one, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The flagship track for SMI is Charlotte Motor Speedway, which serves as the halfway point of the Chase on Oct. 16 and the final SMI track in the Chase is Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 7.
Smith estimates that if Busch is leading the Chase at Charlotte or Texas it could mean an additional 10,000 to 20,000 tickets sold for each of those two races. "It would be fabulous," he predicted. "Any time you put Kyle Busch in a car today, in any series, he is the man to beat."
While Smith wants Busch to do well in "The Chase," he still believes Johnson is the favorite until proven otherwise.
"Maybe these other drivers aren't trying hard enough," Smith said. "Jimmie Johnson works and he is focused and is mentally in condition to do this every day. One of my sons works out with him and he does that every day. If Jimmie Johnson wins on Sunday he might be running five miles the next morning."
Busch agrees that until Johnson loses a title he will be the driver to beat. And if any driver stops Johnson's championship streak, who better than Busch?
He's just what NASCAR needs to make this sport more interesting again.
Team Penske may have three drivers under contract but that doesn't mean all three will have rides in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season. If proper sponsorship isn't lined up to support all three, the team could go back to a two-car operation. That could lead to Ryan Briscoe reuniting with another team owner named Penske -- Roger's youngest son, Jay.
Helio Castroneves will be back at Team Penske along with Will Power. If the team has to field two cars rather than three, Briscoe could move over to the De Ferran/Dragon Racing Team which is owned by Jay.
Asked about that possibility before Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway, Jay responded with a wink and smile, "That's a great question."
When pressed again on the issue, he said, "No comment."
Team Penske president Tim Cindric was also asked about that scenario.
"I really haven't heard that one," Cindric said. "It's no secret that we are trying to line up sponsorship to have three cars for next season. We're doing our best to make sure all three cars have sponsorship. I'll tell you one thing -- we're not going to have two cars that are sponsored by Team Penske in 2011."
Power is the only driver out of the three able to display a primary sponsor on his car as Verizon not only sponsors the No. 12 IndyCar, but also features Power along with NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier in several commercials and advertising. The No. 3 car driven by Castroneves and the No. 6 for Briscoe were repainted to a primary black and white scheme this year when longtime sponsor Philip Morris had to cease all sporting sponsorship in accordance with legislation from state's attorney general phasing out tobacco sponsorships in sports.
Since then, Team Penske has secured Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship as part of an overall agreement that will feature NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch beginning in 2011. The IndyCar program will also benefit from the Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship but not in a primary role.
So if Team Penske fields two IndyCars in 2012, where does that leave Briscoe? As one Team Penske source pointed out, team owner Roger "doesn't forget" in reference to how Briscoe lost the 2009 IndyCar title when he spun out of pit lane and took out a safety cone at Twin Ring Motegi last September in his haste to leave the pits while leading.
The incident dramatically tightened the points race and Dario Franchitti was able to defeat Briscoe and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon when he took the lead with six laps left in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I don't know if I ever will let that go," Briscoe admitted. "It was the timing of the mistake at Motegi. You could blame the championship on something else that happened earlier in the season, but to have that happen in the next to last race is tough to let it go."
Since joining Team Penske in 2008, Briscoe has won six races and was a serious contender for the title last year when he won three times and had 13 top-five finishes and four poles. He was eliminated from the 2010 championship when he was involved in a three-car crash in Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway.
"The fact we don't have sponsorship for all three weighs on me a little bit," Briscoe said. "I'm definitely committed to Penske and they are committed to me. Going to [De Ferran/Dragon] is not what we are trying to do. I'm 100 percent committed to Penske, so that is more of a question for Roger or time than for me."
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