It’s hard to say what’s been faster the last few years: Kyle Busch on the track when he’s winning, or Kyle Busch after the race when something goes wrong.
If some of his temper tamper-induced sprints into the team hauler had been timed, he would’ve put the guys I watched running the 40 at the NFL Combine Monday to shame.
And until he matured enough to stand and face the music, he’d never have a chance to win a Sprint Cup championship. For all the cut-throat tendencies in NASCAR, the 43 cars that line up every week are a little bit like the peloton at the Tour de France. They have to compete while also watching out for each other, and only those who earn respect have a chance to get through the traffic.
Sometime, somewhere, if Busch’s reputation had continued, a lapped car would’ve taken its sweet time getting out of the way in the Chase. An out-of-contention crew chief in the pit stall in front of Busch would’ve somehow missed the message when asked to bring his car in one lap later and clear space for the M&M’s Camry.
It wouldn’t be out of line to compare Busch to Dale Earnhardt Sr. when it comes to pure driving ability. But no one ever made that connection because Busch so often looked feeble compared to a man who never cut and run.
But there Busch was after just missing the weekend sweep in Phoenix, splitting time heaping praise at Jeff Gordon for eating him up in the final laps and heaping apologies at Carl Edwards for getting into him earlier in the race. His maturity level has leapfrogged so quickly you’d think he had found a time machine.
Who knows what it is? After bleeding cash by overextending himself in starting his Camping World Truck Series team, maybe he figured out that he didn’t know everything and started listening to reason a little.
After finally getting his precious trifecta sweep at Bristol last year, maybe he stopped trying to get himself inducted into the Hall of Fame every weekend.
And, although I questioned recently whether marriage and fatherhood have been conducive to Jeff Gordon’s “Drive for Five,” exchanging vows might’ve been the perfect elixir for a somewhat angry young man with little to no direction at all. There’s little argument that Joe Gibbs has a history of enabling rather than corralling talented but tempestuous drivers, which further confirms Samantha Busch’s positive input.
We’ll see if it lasts. After winning the Sprint Cup in 2005, Tony Stewart agreed when I asked him if enjoying the journey as much as the destination finally made him more at peace. Since then he’s shoved a USAC official, and recently exchanged licks with a race track owner in Australia during a vacation. If a driver trades punches with someone over a disagreement on the track, that’s old-school. When he wrestles with track officials, that’s just silly.
So before anybody asks, nobody’s asking Busch to become a corporate robot. It’s just important for him to pick his spots. When he gets beaten fair and square, he needs to be a man about it. Hopefully Sunday was the norm and not the exception.