Why I Like Kyle Busch (I Know, I know, not too many do…)

I am often asked who the best NASCAR driver is; my answer right now is Kyle Busch; and when I say that, the reaction I get is about the same as if I would’ve  yelled out “Osama Bin Laden” in a crowded VFW meeting: that is, I wonder if I should fear for my life.  But when it comes to performance, Kyle gets it done.  Here’s what’s really hard to believe: when Busch began driving in the Cup Series at age 19, he had ZERO wins in his rookie season but look what’s happened since then. At the age of only 25, Kyle is knocking down numbers earlier in his career that now match or exceed other more well-known, famous drivers’ career records with much more experience than himself.  Unlike most Cup drivers who race exclusively in NASCAR’s top division once they get there, Kyle would rather would rather do “double duty” (OK,I know what you’re thinking, “Big Deal” other drivers do that, too, ah, but very few are extremely competitive to the point where they are a legitimate threat to win the race every time they compete in it.(he will compete in the Cup race and whichever support race is on the schedule on a particular race weekend–whether it be the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series (he actually OWNS a team in the latter–again, at the age of only 25!  Some drivers have waited until they were TWICE his age and hung up the helmet long before that to field a race team of any kind.). This is his fiery competitive nature and it burns deep down within. Every driver will tell you that they want to win every race they enter; Kyle Busch wants to lead every lap getting there. The phrase “getting up on the wheel” was practically invented for (and by) Kyle Busch    That is exactly why I like the guy.  He runs the car(and himself) HARD!!!  So much so that when he doesn’t win he tends to get angry especially with himself and many times he takes it out on others;sometimes that includes his own team(Witness the most recent outburst at the All-Star Race in Charlotte with teammate Denny Hamlin.)  It is these temper tantrums that polarize both race fans and the media regarding Kyle. They either love him or hate him. Well there was another driver who didn’t do much at the start of his career either.  Here again is where I get into a lot of trouble with many race fans but either their memories are short or they must fade too much over time.  In much of  his storied career, after winning his first Cup Championship in his rookie year (which no one else has ever done since). Dale Earnhardt Sr. was constantly booed nearly every racetrack he went to; he once said something like “I don’t care if they boo me or cheer me, as long as I get some sort of reaction, it’s OK. I would worry if they were quiet”  He also had that same “love-him-or-hate-him kind of effect on race fans (and again the media) back then.  But the biggest difference between the two is that Dale grew up in the South(specifically, North Carolina,where the sport’s deepest roots lie);Busch is from out west and might as well be a foreigner. For most fans  Dale Sr.  was a “common” man who did uncommon things–he put the word EARN in Earnhardt (for them his last name should have been “EARNEDHARD”–he had that much grit and determination.  I was lucky enough to witness those traits at Watkins Glen in 1996 where he not only qualified for the race, he actually put the menacing black #3 on the pole. Amazingly this came just two weeks after the Atlanta  race where he was involved in a vicious crash in which he suffered a broken collarbone (the second time in his career), a broken sternum and shoulder blade.  Another distinction between the two is that Sr. has 7 Cup Championships, as we all know; Kyle has yet to get his first.   For me numbers don’t lie and on-track performance counts; while Dale’s lifetime achievements are staggering, Kyle’s numbers are getting impressive as well; he has 18 Cup and Truck wins plus 34 Nationwide wins with some of these coming while doing the previously mentioned “double” or in some rare instances even  ”triple”- duty , with Nationwide one Series Championship; The “Intimidator” never got one.   Kyle’s laps led in the Nationwide Series is already double that of  Dale’s(7928-3262 at the time of this post) and his laps led in the Cup Series is nearly 20% of Earnhardt’s lifetime total (25,684-4959) All stats quoted from http://racing-reference.info. Right now, Earnhardt fans who are reading this are cringing at the very notion (GASP!) that I would have the stones to compare the young punk from Nevada to their “Saint” Dale–whom they “canonized” following his unfortunate death at his favorite track, Daytona, in 2001 (which I was also present for, sad to say) and especially now that Sr. has been rightfully enshrined (pun intended) in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In the interest of complete disclosure, early in my announcing career, I got a “heads-up” about Kyle once when I was working as an MRN pit reporter during the time when older brother Kurt was tearing up the truck circuit driving for Jack Roush,  I asked him why he was he was so good . His reply”If you think I’m good, just wait until you see my younger brother Kyle”. Well. Kurt, now we’ve all seen him and you were right: he’s good–REAL GOOD!   But just for the record, my “driver”, the one I follow and root for every race, is Tony Stewart, who not too long ago both the media and the fans were calling for “an attitude judgement” and anger management courses for the the two-time Cup Champion. It just proves how fickle this sport and its fans can be…