Monday, August 23, 2010

Pity for NASCAR that Kyle Busch is so damn good

Kyle Busch made a record-setting run last week in Bristol by winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck, NASCAR Nationwide, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events all at the same track, and all on the same weekend. It’s an amazing accomplishment; something that’s never been done before, and will be pretty hard to do again.

Too bad the guy comes across as such a jackass.

There, I said it. Kyle Busch’s public persona gives people the impression that he’s one of the most conceited, self-centered, whiny, abusive, oblivious, obnoxious jerks to ever strap on a helmet.

Let’s examine this weekend’s shenanigans during his record-setting run at Bristol. In the truck race, Busch lost his patience with local Kansas City driver Jennifer Jo Cobb on a lap 37 restart and shoved her out of his way, screwing up what may have been a reasonably good day for Cobb (although it was so early in the race, we’ll never know for sure). What was the point of that? It isn’t like he couldn’t pass her without booting her. Cobb’s whole strategy seems to be to move out of the way and let people pass; she sure doesn’t try to battle anybody. But still, Busch wound up having an amazing run, working his way from the back to the front to win the race.

The big whoop-de-doo of the weekend came in Friday night’s Nationwide Series event. Busch and Brad Keselowski were batting hard and clean lap after lap as the race was winding down. On lap 219, Busch made a hail-Mary pass on the low side of Keselowski to clear him for the lead. He was going a little faster than the limits of the car, however, and bobbled as he cut in front of the series points’ leader. A small amount of contact was made, and Busch glanced off the wall. He wasn’t wrecked. He wasn’t even damaged. But it gave Keselowski a chance to take the lead back.

Apparently no one is allowed to take advantage of Kyle Busch when he makes a mistake, though, because he flat-out dumped Keselowski from the race as they went into turn four. How do we know this was intentional? Because during his victory lane interview he came out and said, “So I went into the next corner and dumped him. He does it to everybody else. Why can’t I do it to him?”

The crowd was understandably not with Busch after his performance in this event, and let him know during his little post-race front stretch celebration. You see, Busch has been unpopular for quite some time, so to prove that he doesn’t give a crap what the fans think, he devised a clever little tradition where when he wins he stops at the flag stand and takes a “bow” to the jeering fans. This week, fans were so unhappy that Busch chose to further egg them (the people who buy the tickets so he can do what he loves) on by rubbing his eyes like he was crying during his bow.

Still, you have to give the guy some credit. When the big Sprint Cup event was over on Saturday night, Busch was able to work his way from deep in the pack to convincingly take the checkered flag. It was a very impressive run. And the three-fer was a very impressive accomplishment. If it hadn’t been for the issues in the previous days’ events, it would have been met with overwhelming respect and admiration from the fans.

Instead, the fans look at poor sportsmanship like that which was displayed in the Nationwide Series event. They look at a guy who is so high on himself that he refuses to speak with the media when he doesn’t win. They see a guy that absolutely berates his team over the radio when his car isn’t the way he wants it. And they don’t like him. They don’t appreciate his accomplishments. They aren’t impressed with his success.

NASCAR has taken a hit in recent years. The die-hard fans just aren’t there like they were 5-10 years ago. There are plenty of things you can blame that on—the economy, tracks overbuilding seats, the ugly new race car, the inclusion of Toyota angering the die-hards, the loss of Dale Earnhardt, the lackluster performances of Dale, Jr., and on, and on.

But it certainly doesn’t help that the guy who finds his way to victory lane in all three series’ more often than anyone else is so profoundly unlikeable.

Kyle Busch, the scrawny 25-year-old prima-donna that made his way into the top echelons of motorsports on the heels of his championship-winning brother, and is blessed with some of the top equipment in the series, is likely the most naturally talented driver in the sport of NASCAR. There is no doubt about it, the guy is good. Very, very good.

It’s too bad his talent behind the wheel doesn’t equate to talent behind the microphone. Because if Kyle Busch can’t convince the folks that buy the tickets that he appreciates them, he appreciates his own situation, and he realizes just how special his own talent and opportunities really are, it’s going to be pretty hard for the fans to appreciate him either. Kyle Busch is one of the most prominent faces of NASCAR. It’s just a face that’s hard for a large contingent of NASCAR fans to love.

Photos by Todd Warshaw and Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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