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Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's "Home Teams" and Kyle Friggin' Busch

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Kyle Busch, Random Lugnuts
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's "Home Teams" and Kyle Friggin' Busch
Bill Crittenden

Bill Crittenden/The Crittenden Automotive Library
January 18, 2012

"What the Hell is wrong with Kyle Busch?"

This is a question frequently asked by millions of NASCAR fans who just don't like what Kyle Busch does.  My question to them is, "what the Hell is wrong with NASCAR fans these days?"

Kyle Busch probably got off on the wrong foot.  I remember my first year of high school, meeting the older kids who didn't like my big brother's sense of humor.  My name alone was enough for them to decide they didn't want to like me, either.  Kyle Busch followed his controversial big brother Kurt into NASCAR's highest levels, and so many fans had already begun to form an opinion of him based on name alone.  Strike one.

Then Kyle walked into the room wearing the wrong shirt.  Hendrick Motorsports.  The team of Jeff Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors.  Just as fans tend to like their favorite driver's teammates they also tend to dislike the teammates of the drivers they hate.  Remember all those trucks in the 90's with a Fans Against Gordon sticker next to their number 3?  I bet a lot of them are the ones booing Kyle Busch and have been since he drove the number 5.  Strike two.

While the die hard Earnhardt fans may have softened their attitudes towards Hendrick Motorsports in the past few years (having Dale Jr. racing for the team has a lot to do with it), the one thing they haven't softened their attitudes on is the United States of America.  NASCAR fans love the good ol' U.S.A.  It's about the only thing NASCAR fans can agree on, and patriotism is a populat theme at stock car events, with big flags, military flyovers, honors for soldiers lost and celebrations of freedom and American culture.  In the eyes of many fans, there are two things "real Americans" shouldn't do at NASCAR races:  drink a Heineken, or drive a Toyota.  Strike three.

So it's no wonder the meat & potatoes eatin' God Bless America sticker on the American truck traditional NASCAR fans hate Kyle Busch.  Add to all that the image of Earnhardt looking angry in his mustache standing in front of his black Chevrolet is a lot closer to "badass" than a metrosexual looking kid in front of a bright yellow Toyota with M&M's on it.  Strike four...?  Yeah, I can keep going...

Unfortunately, all this tends to make a lot of folks sound kinda silly when they criticize Busch for doing what he does.  Let's set aside his past and look into who he really is...

First of all, he doesn't hold back.  No, the term "gentleman racer" certainly doesn't apply to him, but then he's hardly the punk that he's made out to be.  He's not riding around in 30th place wreckin' cars for that all-too-valuable 29th place, he's racing for wins.  He's foot-to-the floor from green flag until checkered, and he takes home a heck of a lot of trophies for it.  That may not be every fan's favorite type of racer, and it may not match his kid-in-a-yellow-Camry image, but it's the type of racing that a lot of people booing him respect out of their favorite drivers.  Hence the sounds of sillyness I mentioned.

Another instance of the pot's fans calling the kettle black is Kyle's attitude.  He was "whiny" when he won the first Car of Tomorrow race and said in Victory Lane that the car sucked, even though a lot of fans and drivers said the car sucked.  He was "childish" when he held up his middle finger towards a NASCAR official for the duration of a pit road penalty last year, even though you and I both know you'd just LOVE to get away with doing that to the police officer that gives you a traffic ticket.  He has to "pick on" the Nationwide and Truck teams for wins even though he's far from the only Cup driver to race a few extra nights a week (I have a picture of Dale Earnhardt in an ASA race of all things if you'd like to argue the point) and seems to have such a genuine love for the sport that he'd race seven days a week if there were enough companion series in the same town each weekend.  Kyle was "going to kill someone" when he ran a driverless car into the pit road wall when it was parked in front of him, while that other driver got a pass for driving like an idiot on that same pit road and blocking Kyle's car so he can wait for help from his crew to arrive before getting out of the car to throw punches at a guy still strapped into his car.

That last example is a textbook case of just what is wrong with Kyle Busch.  Kyle Busch, with all the baggage his image and his past teammates and his car loaded onto him, against a man in a black Budweiser Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress.  The simple explanation is that Kyle Busch has always played for the wrong team.

NFL season is just winding down, and I know a lot of NASCAR fans watch football.  Think of the last game you watched, how the home team cheered for their guys no matter who they were going up against.  At some point the home crowd probably booed for a close call that didn't go their way.  It doesn't matter how obvious the call is on the big screen at the stadium, the crowd boos when the referees don't call it their way.  It's fan loyalty, and like love and God there isn't much logic to it, it's all about faith and emotion and a sense of belonging with people who are your neighbors or fit your view of the world.

In the sport where nobody has a true home crowd, the fans look for a little of themselves in their drivers.  People that are like them, or people that they want to be more like.  For a few, that means just picking the winner (I'm looking in your general direction, you Patriots fans who have never even been to Boston...).  But since Jimmie Johnson isn't by far the most popular driver in NASCAR, there has to be more to it for most fans.  Something beyond statistics and on-track performance.  It has to do with who the driver is on a personal level.

Despite Kyle Busch's behind the wheel similarities to Dale Earnhardt, he still looks like the metrosexual kid in a candy yellow car with a Japanese brand on it.  He didn't build himself up by his own two hands from the blue collar life in rural North Carolina to represent the tough working man made American hero.  Kyle's a kid from Vegas whose parents financed his early racing adventures, was introduced to most of the racing world as teammate to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and is only in his mid twenties but still looks like he'd get carded trying to buy a pack of cigarettes.  When he tries to look bad ass in his promotional pictures, he reminds me of my seven-year old when he tries to look tough.

Seeing him at a NASCAR track is, to some, the equivalent of a Packers fan coming into Soldier Field.  Sure, the Packers may have a good record and some trophies, but they just don't fit in with the crowd.  To the Dale Earnhardt-loving man's man NASCAR fan, Kyle Busch is definitely NOT the "home team."

There isn't much that can be done about it by me or Kyle or his fans.  I'm going to have as much luck getting Earnhardt's old fans to like K.B. as I would going into a Chicago bar and talking about how great the Packers are.  In NASCAR, the home teams aren't so much geographic as they are egocentric*.  Kyle Busch is just not the kind of man NASCAR fans want to see out on that track.  So when there is an incident with someone whom the NASCAR fans do respect, like Kevin Harvick or Ron Hornaday, it's not hard for them to pick sides no matter who may have started what.

He could use a new sponsor.  Yellow and M&M's is never going to fit with his driving style.  He needs one of those energy drinks with the edgy names and black & lime green cans to come along and embrace his style of driving and redesign his paint scheme.  And in a few more years he can try and grow some facial hair.  As for the rest of him, he can't help where he came from and there's nothing wrong with what he's doing now.  There's also nothing wrong with booing him, just understand what you're booing him for, and make sure you don't sound like an idiot when you criticize him for doing the same things you cheer your favorite driver for doing.

I don't expect to convince anyone to like him.  I just want the rest of the NASCAR-watching world to understand him.  Kyle can't help who he is, where he was born, how he grew up or what ride he took to get to the top level of NASCAR competition.  Since then, he's been the type of hard-charging, short-tempered, skillful on the track and entertaining off of it kind of driver that has made NASCAR worth watching to begin with.  Even if you can't like the kid for who he is, he's still probably better than your favorite driver.  Which probably makes you hate him even more.  You know what?  I don't think Kyle cares.  Sure, he cares about his fans, but he's not going to cry himself to sleep every night because he got booed at the track or because he gets called the Keebler Elf online.  He's just going to win again and take a bow to all the haters who can't stand that he beat their favorite drivers.

And you know what?  It doesn't matter what color your car is or what badge it wears, when you do that, it's bad ass.

*="Egocentrism is a personality trait which has the characteristic of regarding oneself and one's own opinions or interests as most important or valid. It also generates the inability to fully understand or to cope with other people's opinions and the fact that reality can be different from what they are ready to accept despite any change in their personal belief." Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egocentric

Comment from Marvin

January 19, 2012

GREAT ARTICLE!! I started following NASCAR when it seemed that every Sunday was a battle between Richard Petty and David Pearson. Since all my friends were Petty fans I thought I would support David Pearson and the Wood Brothers. Consequently I became a Cale Yarborough fan. But then a brash "kid" came on the scene. I became a Darrell Waltrip fan through the late 70's and mid 80's. For several years I didn't follow the sport but in the early 90's decided to start following it again. Darrell was starting to wind down so I wanted a new driver. This was the year that Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt gave us the Dale and Dale Show. So I decided to make Dale Jarrett my man. Great choice. When he retired I wanted to get someone that I could support for a while...someone new...someone showing some signs of winning. I chose Kyle Busch. Wow! What a ride this has been. I've been to Talledega a couple of times with my Kyle cap on...interesting but fun. So, I appreciate your column. You wrote what I've been feeling for several years. Cale had his haters, Darrell definitely had his haters, I don't think anyone hated Dale Jarrett, but Kyle? Oh yeah! But so often, as you stated, the things they "hate" about Kyle are the same things they like about their driver. I know that every Sunday (or Saturday night) that Kyle could win the race. That's what being a fan is all about.

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