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Column: NASCAR needs Kyle Busch to be himself
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Kyle Busch seems awfully unhappy these days.
That’s unfortunate for Busch, and it’s bad for NASCAR.
It’s been a stressful summer for Busch, who finds himself clinging to one of the wild-card spots for the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Not qualifying for NASCAR’s title-deciding series isn’t the end of the world _ Busch missed the cut in 2009 and lived to tell about it _ but it’s a colossal failure for a driver of his caliber.
So, yeah, his fun meter was flat over the weekend at Bristol. He disliked changes to the track, didn’t want to discuss an incident at Watkins Glen with Brad Keselowski he has yet to address and wasn’t willing to go in depth about his shaky Chase chances.
“We’ve got three weeks. Chill out,” he said when asked about the importance of getting a win at Bristol.
Busch didn’t win, though, and now he’s down to two weeks to claim a victory that would dramatically boost his shot at making the Chase. First up is Sunday night’s race at Atlanta, where he has one win in 14 career starts, but a more telling average finish of 18th.
But, all this Chase pressure may not be the only issue that’s left Busch in a seemingly sour mood. His demeanor is a far cry from his “Rowdy” heyday, when Busch was racking up wins in every series and was a threat to win every time he entered a race.
Why? Because he’s hardly running anything anymore.
Busch this year has run just 14 Nationwide races in addition to his Sprint Cup starts, and he’s got a single win for the season, in Cup at Richmond in May. At this time last year, he had four Cup wins, five Nationwide wins and five Truck Series wins. And he was doing it over an abbreviated schedule by Busch’s standards.
He made a big mistake last November at Texas, when he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday under caution in the Trucks race. NASCAR suspended him for the rest of the weekend, and he practically had to grovel to keep his primary Cup sponsor from forcing Joe Gibbs Racing to give him the boot.
Busch kept his job, but he’s been a shell of himself since. Part of his punishment was apparently forcing him to stop running in the Truck Series, which Busch had heavily invested in by starting a team at a time when owners are struggling to see the value.
Out of the driver seat, he’s thrown himself into the team owner role and expanded Kyle Busch Motorsports into the Nationwide Series. He shares the seat with older brother Kurt, and when he announced the team, there was talk that the Busch brothers could win every Nationwide race they entered.
Yet here we are, 23 races into the season, and Kurt’s win at Richmond in May stands as KBM’s only Nationwide victory. The Nationwide team Kyle had hoped would win the owners championship is instead 10th in points, while his Truck team is 11th.
When Busch was winning everything, he had an air of invincibility and walked through the garage without a care in the world. If he minded being NASCAR’s bad boy, he sure didn’t show it. With his trademark celebratory bow to the crowd, and his refusal to back down to anyone, Busch had established himself as the centerpiece in almost every NASCAR storyline.
By John R. Bolton
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