Kurt Busch toning down his infamous temper in 2013
YouTube is a paradise for the anti-Kurt Busch crowd. Search his name and among the first videos listed is one titled "Kurt Busch: Rageaholic'' that chronicles various incidents throughout his career and has been viewed more than 125,000 times.
Scroll further down. There's the clip -- viewed more than 1.1 million times -- of his expletive-laced rant while awaiting to be interviewed by ESPN at Homestead in 2011. A video of his press conference meltdown at Richmond in 2011 has more than 290,000 views. Another video features his verbal jabbing of a reporter last year at Dover, which led to a one-race suspension. It has been played more than 125,000 times.
It's not hard to find Busch's misadventures and mistakes because so many have been caught on camera. His attitude -- or passion as he's called it -- has cost him opportunities, and overshadowed a career highlighted by one Cup championship and 24 series wins. However, because of those moments forever emblazoned on YouTube, many view him as a novelty act instead of a contender most weekends.
So when Busch says he's changed, that he's learning to adjust his temperament, do you believe him? Can you believe him? Is this a calmer Busch only because of a relaxing offseason? Is it because he's buoyed by last year's finish with three consecutive top-10s for Furniture Row Racing? Or is this really a new and improved Kurt Busch heading into the start of Daytona's Speedweeks?
"I hope that through the last 24 months of ups and downs that Kurt is maturing and he'll take that experience and take it to where he can be a contender," said car owner Roger Penske, who parted ways with Busch after a turbulent 2011 season. "You saw the finishes in the last few races, he was in the top 10. He's got a good car, good crew. He's in a pretty good position. I think the future is ... in his hands. He's got to decide what he wants to do with it."
The 34-year-old Busch admits his antics were comparable to those of former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight, who is as well known for throwing a chair during a game as he is for winning three NCAA championships.
"It isn't socially acceptable,'' Busch said of Knight's actions and, thus, his own. "The fabric of our world is changing. That's why a guy like Bobby Knight might have been phased out. That's why I've had to learn from my situations."
As Busch declares this, sitting in a comfortable recliner, it doesn't mean he can't get angry. Every athlete gets angry during competition. R-rated material is prevalent at times on driver radio channels during races.
Busch must manage his anger this year. If he needs to yell, do so without hitting the radio button all the time in the car, bite his lip, or let others have the last word instead of engaging in a debate that can only perpetuate the image many have of Busch fairly or unfairly. Simple things yes, but they can be hard to do.
Even with the issues that surrounded Busch at times, defending series champion Brad Keselowski called Busch "one of the best teammates I've ever worked with."
"I've brought in some drama, too," said Keselowski, who had numerous run-ins with drivers in the Nationwide Series. "I can't say he was the only one. Certainly those things weren't ideal, but the level of talent and how that made me a better driver was part of why I was successful in 2012."
Talent has never been a question for Busch, one of five drivers to win a Cup title in the last decade; it's always been about his emotions. But when he can stay in check, he can truly lead a good team.
Crew chief Todd Berrier counters the image many have of Busch, saying "how genuinely good a person" Busch is. Berrier notes how Busch interacts with the team and sees bonds being built instead of broken.
"People will fight to their death for you because you're acting like you care about them," Berrier said. "Honestly, it's not an act with him. I think he understands that when those people are behind you, you can get a lot out of them."
Mark McArdle, Furniture Row's executive director of competition, says Busch made the team better in just the six races they ran together at the end of the season after replacing Regan Smith. McArdle compares Busch to Peyton Manning and notes how Manning impacted the Denver Broncos after joining the team before this past season.
"He raised the game for everybody on that team," McArdle said of Manning, "and that's exactly what Kurt has done for our organization. He's forced every one of us to get better.
"He's clearly a leader in the transporter and the shop. He definitely is direct in his statements. He doesn't sugarcoat things, but at the same time they're factually based. He's incredibly involved in the engineering effort. He wants to know everything that is going on at all times, has a very strong opinion about those things and is, generally speaking, very good at helping us to the correct direction."
It might be hard for some to believe that when there's so much video evidence that suggests the contrary. Then again, cameras don't follow Busch everywhere.
Busch has become involved in the Armed Forces Foundation through girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, who is president of the organization that supports injured troops and families. Among the things Busch has done is visited troops in hospitals.
"I don't go in there now with the big cameras and the big groups of people because you can tell,'' Busch said. "When I went in there the first few times and we had the groups with us, [and the soldiers' attitude was] 'Oh yeah, you're just here to get your picture taken and say you were shaking my hand.'"
Not so, says Busch.
"I'm here to listen and we're here to help try to create a better situation for you and your family,'' he told them. "It's so remarkable to see their internal drive to overcome their injuries ... and to push forward. It's given me a lot of motivation to know that when I'm having my rougher times, it doesn't hold a candle to what these guys are going through."
Busch made changes for the troops. Now, the changes he's made will be displayed for NASCAR fans to see this season.
Do you believe he can make those changes last?
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