- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

BROOKLYN, MICH. (AP) - Controversy just seems to naturally swirl around Kyle Busch. And it seems the more uproar, the more NASCAR’s bad boy enjoys it.

The latest conflict, “GuitarGate,” is the result of Busch slamming the winner’s trophy _ a hand-painted Les Paul guitar _ against the ground after winning last Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Nashville Speedway.

Busch said he was trying to break up the unique trophy so he could give each member of his Joe Gibbs Racing team a piece of the award they had helped him earn with his first win at the Tennessee track.

The young driver shrugged off the ensuing criticism, but the uproar has yet to subside.

“I never thought it would get that much attention,” Busch said Friday at Michigan International Speedway, where he will race in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race and in Sunday’s Sprint Cup event. The busy Busch is also scheduled to drive in the Nationwide race Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

But the questions about the guitar persist _ and Busch is not apologetic.

“It certainly drew the ire of the fans,” he said. “It is what it is. I thought it was a neat idea to share the guitar with the whole team; In the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll _ smash it up, bang it up, whatever. It didn’t quite go according to plan in breaking. Gibson makes an awfully strong guitar.”

Asked if he regrets trying to imitate Who guitarist Pete Townsend, Busch said, “No, I don’t regret it. I thought it was fun. … It was fun and a lot of people enjoyed it and thought it was different _ not so vanilla.”

He also took a jab at the fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr., stock car racing’s most popular driver, who drove the No. 8 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., before moving to the No. 88 of Hendrick Motorsports.

“A lot of people hated it and I guess those are the ones with 88 tattooed on their arm, or maybe still 8s,” Busch said. “I’ve got no issues with Junior, it’s his fans that are crazy, but that’s all right.”

That’s just like the 24-year-old Busch, who has already accumulated 51 victories in NASCAR’s three top professional series but has often drawn criticism for his comments and behavior.

He said the guitar incident was just an extension of his usual post-victory burnouts and bowing to the crowd with at least as many boos as cheers raining down.

“That’s sort of my way of livening it up,” he said. “We just went a little far there in Nashville, further I should say, in trying to make some excitement. It’s not going to happen to the Harley J. (Earl, Daytona 500) trophy, it’s not going to happen to the Martinsville clock.”

Jimmie Johnson, the reigning three-time Cup champion and one of the least controversial drivers in the sport, isn’t surprised by his former teammate’s actions.

Johnson said Busch’s behavior reminds him of Hall of Famer and three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who earned the nickname “Jaws” during his driving career.

“You know, certain people just like to stir things up,” Johnson said. “Kyle, I’m sure, at points, regrets stirring up the pot. But, in other times, I think he thrives on it.

“By focusing on Junior alone, yeah, he had the fans on him (before), but now he’s going to start up a whole new wave and, who knows, he’s probably loving it.”

Older brother, Kurt Busch, a former Cup champion and often the object of boos himself, said his brother will weather this latest storm just fine.

“He’s having a great time with where he is in the sport, with what his persona is,” the elder Busch said. “He’s having fun with it. … It’s always on the cutting edge _ is this acceptable or isn’t it acceptable? The Busch brothers are always on the cutting edge of that.”

Kyle Busch said his only real regret about his actions in Nashville was that he took attention away from Tony Stewart’s victory on Sunday, his first Cup win as an owner-driver.

“Man, what a cool win for Tony last week,” he said. “That was very neat and he didn’t get enough attention.”

“As far as the attention goes, I don’t need any more, trust me,” Busch added. “But, it certainly got a lot. It was fun. Maybe, eventually, it will die down.”

Asked if he would do it again, Busch said, “If I had to go back and do it all over again, which I can’t, I’d probably do it again. Would I do it again in the future? Probably not.”

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