Sunday, August 16, 2009

On the continuing Kyle Busch saga, Keselowski's hometown win, and backseat drivers

The Kyle Busch saga continues.

It's been a long time since the NASCAR community has seen a driver with so much raw talent. Yes, there was Dale Earnhardt in 1979 and Tim Richmond in 1981 and Jess Gordon in 1993. But since then there have been a slew of "good" drivers but no truly "great" drivers.

Then along came Kyle.

He's won more races in NASCAR's top three national series in the past two years than most drivers could hope to win in their career.

When the greats of the sport like Petty, Pearson, Yarbourough, Allison, Waltrip, and Earnhardt were winning there was often controversy, but in general their efforts were applauded and appreciated by the audience.

So when then is Kyle Busch reviled?

Earnhardt was polarizing. You either loved him or hated him. But regardless of which side of the fence you were on, you respected his talent.

That's not the case for Kyle Busch. For the vast majority of racefans, he's the driver they love to hate. I have to suspect there are many in the media corps who feel the same way, though they could never admit it.

Perhaps it's incidents like post-race contact with Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen or post-race interviews at Michigan that cause the boo birds to jeer every time Busch is seen, heard, or mentioned.

What is it about those two races that has Busch so upset? Since when is racing someone hard a cheap shot? Did Ambrose do anything dirty in passing Busch entering the inner loop? Did Brian Vickers do anything dirty in chasing Busch down to the apron on the front stretch and taking his entry into turn one away from him? No contact was made in either instance and the result was that Busch was beaten, fair and square. Yet when the microphones appear, Busch becomes petulant and abrasive.

Yes, Earnhardt could lose his temper with reporters, and Waltrip could too. But the difference is once the moment passed they would return to their jovial, respectful selves. Busch has slid down the slope to where he rarely smiles on camera anymore, unless of course it's in victory lane.

Yes, winning is the ultimate goal for racecar drivers. Busch's attitude towards winning is refreshing since many believe a good portion of the starting field in the Sprint Cup Series are merely out there collecting money for their retirement funds. Being a good winner is important but so is being a good loser.

Especially when the race you just lost is in a minor-league series, not in a Cup race.

It would be one thing if Ambrose's dive-bomb into the inner loop at The Glen resulted in a crash or of Vickers' move on the frontstretch at Michigan was a tire-rubbing, fender-crunching body slam. But they weren't. They were clean moves, and Busch lost fair and square.

No one wants Busch to become a sponsor-plugging automaton. It's possible to have personality and give good interviews and still be upset you lost. Busch needs to find that middle ground, especially on Saturdays.

There is nothing lost by coming up to a reporter and saying how hard you were trying to lose and how much you wanted it only to fall short. There's nothing wrong with being upset with seven second-place finishes (remember the "what if those second places were all wins" line?) but when you have a pout on and you act like a school kid who lost the game so he took his ball and bat and went home, well, then there is something wrong with it.


Congratulations to Brad Keselowski on his surprising win at Michigan, his home track. ESPN paid lip service to the importance of this track to Brad and his family, but as someone who has known the Keselowski family since the early 1980s and is proud to have spent a lot of time with the entire clan in the latter years of their Truck Series involvement, I can say that the ESPN reporters have no real feeling for just how much that win means.


The "Backseat Drivers" experiment during the Nationwide broadcast was interesting. Dale Jarrett showed he can be a very competent play-by-play announcer, and the rest of the cast - Andy Petree, Rusty Wallace, and Ray Evernham - did a decent job throughout. It was interesting but not something I'd like to see every week. One has to wonder if this experiment was done as an audition as Dr. Jerry Punch continues to struggle with generating excitement as lead play-by-play announcer.

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