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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kyle Busch vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr: Who would you hire?

In the blue corner: A young upstart driver who wins a ton of races and has enough talent to shatter plenty of NASCAR records. Unfortunately, he is also the biggest crybaby in the garage area when something doesn’t go his way, and is very quick to throw his team under the bus in a very public manner if they do anything wrong, while rarely admitting to his own mistakes.

In the red corner: A veteran driver who has one of the biggest collection of fans in all of sports, but has failed to lived up to his last name or potential in the past decade. He is a cash cow, guaranteed to make your organization much richer, but probably won’t take you to Victory Lane very often. He also comes packaged with a controversial cousin/crew chief who many people believe isn‘t up to the job.

This rivalry was set up when Dale Earnhardt Jr. replaced Kyle Busch at Hendrick Motorsports. It was rekindled a couple weeks ago when Busch made some comments about how the media always focuses on one guy who doesn’t seem to win a lot (hmmm … I wonder who that could be).

When looking at the stat line, the initial answer to the “who would you hire?” question comes quickly: Kyle Busch is the better option because he wins so much, and that’s what matters most. But as always, there’s a subtext to every debate. You have to take into account the driver as a person, as you’ll have to deal with him on a daily basis.

Over the past month, Kyle Busch has shown on several occasions that despite being the greatest winning machine in NASCAR since Jeff Gordon in the 1990s, he is the textbook definition of a sore loser.
First, he literally told his pit crew “Y’all suck!!” after they botched a pit stop that cost him a Nationwide series win. Then, in the Truck series race on Monday, after another legitimate penalty (of his own doing) cost him the race, he slammed his gear into the Truck, ran down the entire length of pit road, ran across the track and over a wall. I’m guessing someone picked him up in the parking lot.

No one doubts his talent, but episodes like these make him appear like a little child. Little Kyle cries when he doesn’t get his way and fails to win every single race in all three series. Last fall, when he got a terrible start to the Chase due to a team error, he basically threw his team under the bus for their mistakes and gave up. In Kyle Busch’s world, there is an “I” in the word “team”.

But then again, he does win a large portion of the races he enters, so despite all his character flaws I would most definitely want the young tantrum-thrower on my team, despite all the trouble it might cause and how many egos might be bruised.

Meanwhile, there’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., a man 10 years into his Cup career who has yet to see the success many anticipated. He has the name, but with the exception of a few years at DEI, he has never been in the top level of championship-caliber drivers.

Still, many say the doubters are wrong and Jr. will emerge as a champion soon enough and prove the haters wrong. They argue that once Jr. settles in at the powerhouse Hendrick team, within the next couple years, he will start running up front with his teammates Gordon and Johnson each week. Waiting on this to happen is much wiser than forcing yourself to deal with the emotional roller coaster that is Kyle Busch, they say. And to some extent, they are right.

Then of course there’s the name, and all the money that comes with it. I fully believe that if Jr. were running 43rd every week, he’d still have plenty of sponsors and more fans than any other driver on the track each week. His name is so big that having him on your team is like having a constantly refilling pot of gold in the garage stall. In these tough economic times, it would be very hard for a car owner to turn down that kind of financial opportunity.

While many would argue Jr. is behind Busch in the talent department, it’s also true that the kind of money Jr. rakes in for a team can buy a lot of really good cars and employees, which can make up some of that talent gap if you figure out something the other teams don’t know about how to run faster.

Of all the car owners in NASCAR, Rick Hendrick is the most likely to be very patient with Jr. He has won so many championships that his record won’t be tarnished if Jr. never claims a title or a bunch more wins. I actually believe Hendrick is not regretting his decision to replace Kyle with Dale Jr., as they seem to have a really good relationship (something that probably wasn’t as true with him and Kyle).

But deep down, Hendrick has to be thinking about what could have been if Kyle had stayed and let his talent blossom at Hendrick. Between Johnson, Gordon and Busch all at their best, the team would have been nearly unbeatable each week.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd hire a winner not necessarily the most poopular driver

April 2, 2009 at 7:24 AM 
Anonymous yankeegranny said...

If I were a one car operation, I would want Kyle. On a multi-car TEAM, i would want JR. There is no I in team, and Jr is a team player while Kyle is not. In a one car operation, Kyle would always be #1.I think Hendricks knows that only one driver can win a race and needed drivers who could accept that they might not always be first. Kyle isn't that driver. Jr is. I bet as a child Kyle's reportcard had minuses beside plays well with others and shares toys, while Jr had plusses on the same items,:)

April 2, 2009 at 7:34 AM 
Anonymous Sean said...

I can understand, although I don't agree with in the long run, Junior being hired over Busch. What I can't understand is Hendrick keeping Casey Mears over Busch, and then firing him barely a year later...

April 2, 2009 at 8:18 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll take a gentleman driver from North Carolina where racing got its roots than a smart aleck from Las Vegas. You all keep bragging about the boy, he needs all the fans he can get. When it comes time for his interviews after the race, if he doesn't run away, I change the channel. Don't care how many wins he gets, he sucks as a spokesman for his sponsors. If I were M&M's, I'd find someone that's a better role model. Where's Ken Schrader when you need him?

April 2, 2009 at 10:07 AM 
Anonymous TroubleTurnFour said...

Look at the long term picture. Sure Kyle is a "spoiled brat" right now. Just like Tony Stewart has come a long way to a fan favorite, and just as the "spoiled rotten" John McEnroe has become such a popular figure, the Kyle followers will grow, Kyle will mature, and we will, at this present rate see a villain turn hero at the end of his career. Look at the fans after just these last few years - from the "everyone hates Kyle" show to going to races seeing M&M shirts and hats everywhere. I think we're actually seeing signs for the 18 team in the background of the Speed stage too.
Go #14.

April 2, 2009 at 12:44 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'mon man, this debate is so overdone. Isn't there anything better to write about? I think yankeegranny had the best summation of things, but still, Kyle Busch vs. Earnhardt Jr. is a non-issue when Mears was able to keep his job. It's fun to publicize it, but it's unnecessary and just rambling about it and sparking debate isn't really going to affect anything. Why not clue us in on some of the business aspects of NASCAR? Dodge and GM's financial situations come to mind...

April 3, 2009 at 1:31 AM 

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