Meet Kyle Busch: The supertalented driver almost everyone loves to hate
John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kyle Busch swept the competition this weekend, to the dismay of many fans.
When you’re among the best at any particular skill, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be a nice guy.
This is nothing new, as I’ve heard reports that even Ben Franklin – legendary American statesman and inventor, among other things – was a highly unlikable person and a philanderer.
Getting back to NASCAR, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., in addition to his massive following, also had a huge group of people who despised him and his roughian ways on the track. You were either with him or against him, no middle ground. But it was probably a 50-50 split.
Now there’s Kyle Busch. The kid is 25 years old, which is hard to fathom when you recognize that he has 78 wins over the three top NASCAR series. His charge since coming over to the Joe Gibbs team is unbelievable. He had some success driving Chevys for Rick Hendrick, but things didn’t work out over there … and I don’t doubt Kyle’s cantankerous personality contributed to the dissolving of that relationship.
Even after their relationship ended, Hendrick continued to speak of how talented Busch can be on the racetrack.
"Kyle is one of the most awesome talents," Hendrick said in 2007. "I compare Kyle to Tim Richmond, and that's saying a whole lot about car control. He's got that desire to win. He doesn't like to run second; he doesn't want to wait.”
Well, those praises have certainly come to be a reality. Since his move to Gibbs, chances are at some point during a weekend you’ve seen Kyle Busch in Victory Lane – whether it be in Cup, Nationwide or Trucks. This weekend at Bristol, he did the unthinkable and won all three races in the same weekend – at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.
History was made, so everyone is happy, right?
Wrong, as you could guess by the loud boos heard every week at driver introductions and whenever he gets into Victory Lane. The simple fact is that most fans really don’t consider themselves KB fans. Some might suggest that for some fans, it goes back to when he wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead at Richmond, but that’s probably a tiny minority.
It’s actually pretty simple, in my mind: The fans just don’t like his attitude and massive ego, which is on display every time he talks. In a way, this kind of attitude is needed to be a dominant driver. You have to have the air of confidence, letting everyone in your way know that if you don’t take the checkered flag you’re going to be upset.
Some would call this striving for perfection. Others, namely the fans, would call it being a brat and, often, a crybaby – which is a common criticism after Kyle’s many temper tantrums where he storms away like an angry 5-year-old who didn’t get his ice cream.
The important thing is to make a distinction here. As a racecar driver, not one fan can say he isn’t one of the best – possibly THE best – in the Cup series right now. If he gets the proper car under him, he can win every week, and even his biggest haters know that.
But what gets people riled up is Kyle the person … the guy who talks in Victory Lane like he’s the greatest of all time, with an ego so big it fills the entire racetrack. The guy who taunts the crowd for more boos, soaking them up as he loves to be the guy that hate—something he views as a compliment.
Unlike the Intimidator, who beneath his gruff exterior had some likable qualities that drew fans to him, Busch is all ego and attitude – leaving most fans turned off and cursing his name.
I’m not sure what would be necessary for the fans to embrace Busch, though I suppose it is possible … his brother Kurt was once hated, but is no more.
But I don’t think he even wants that. Busch seems to be loving his current position in the sport … the guy who wins a lot and pisses people off.
And the fans love to hate him, too. So I guess everybody’s happy.
Fresh off their battle Saturday night, which ended with Brad Keselowski in the fence, Busch and Keselowski took part in the amped-up driver intros during the pre-race ceremonies Saturday night at Bristol.
Kyle Busch was greeted with boos, as expected, and he retorted with the usual Busch wit: "Aw, you're so loving."
Then, Keselowski came out, saying "I'm Brad Keselowski, driver of the #12 Penske Dodge. Kyle Busch is an ass." ... Quite a few cheers after that, as you might have guessed.
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