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Random Lugnuts: NASCAR Needs Kyle Busch

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing 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 Needs Kyle Busch

Bill Crittenden
3 June 2017

Yesterday Kyle Busch participated in another press conference since the "mic drop" in last week's Charlotte post race press conference.

This latest kerfuffle started last week, after 1:00 am, late because of an hour-plus rain delay and 600 miles of racing, triggered by an inane post-race press conference question about being surprised with Austin Dillon winning was that Kyle said "I'm not surprised about anything" and (lightly) threw the microphone down on the table.

Y'know, you'd think after years of bitching about driver interviews being emotionless sponsor plugs and begging for drivers to show more emotion that they'd respect Kyle's "zero fucks given" attitude about interview etiquette.

But Kyle isn't a regular driver. The short version (of what I've said many times before) of the story is, a lot of fans were put off by his backstory. He didn't have a good introduction to the sport. He reached the top level of NASCAR at a very young age, when anything he said sounded whiny. Rick Hendrick, not a popular fellow among a huge segment of fans at the time, passed over a lot of deserving drivers to put Kyle in a competitive car. Kyle, this kid from Vegas whose parents funded his early racing years, younger brother to Kurt, would eventually go on from Hendrick to become one of Toyota's top drivers. The Japanese carmaker was probably the only entity less popular than Hendrick Motorsports when it entered the sport.

In short, Kyle is the polar opposite of Dale Earnhardt. The everyman, the Intimidator, the All-American blue collar hero who built his own cars and his own career with his own two hands through hard work and sheer force of will. Tough as nails at the track, he spent his off weekends relaxing by going hunting & fishing. Kyle's 32, looks like he still couldn't grow a decent mustache if he tried, drives a Camry, and his biggest sponsor is a candy company.

On the surface, the two couldn't be more different. Once the helmet goes on, however, Kyle's a lot like the past generation's greatest legend. His car control impresses even the most hardened Busch haters. He'll drive almost any car at almost any time he's available and he never holds back going for a win whether he's at Daytona or a local short track. And he doesn't care if you hate him for it, he'll bow to the crowd after a win even if more people are booing than cheering.

He's becoming everything NASCAR fans swear up and down Twitter that they want to see more of, and yet...well, they say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Everything he does in 2017 is viewed through a lens that was formed in 2005.

How bad does this lens distort the fans' perceptions? Consider March 25, 2007. The much-maligned Car of Tomorrow made its race debut at Bristol. Kyle Busch went and won the race and then proclaimed from Victory Lane about the cars that "they suck." But he figured out how to make it work and win anyway, because that was his job. It was an opinion shared by most NASCAR fans at the time, and a ballsy challenge at a time when criticizing the sport earned a trip to the bigwigs' trailer.

Even before the extra bit of hate and derision he'd earn by driving a candy-sponsored Camry, the fan response to saying the thing most of them would have loved to say if given the same opportunity could be summed up as "HOW DARE HE?!?!"

Or how about the time he took a swing at Joey Logano earlier this season? Funny how fans say that they love a scuffle and how the sport promotes itself on the 1979 Daytona 500 fight, but as soon as Kyle takes a swing? "Fighting has no place in the sport, suspend him indefinitely!!!"

Kyle took a swing at Joey when Joey was surrounded by his own team. Not a smart move, and he paid a price for it, but I remember a time when fans would respect the guts that took.

It's a shame, really, because a lot of fans are missing out on exactly what they've been demanding to see, just because they can't get over how they remember seeing Kyle's actions through the years as filtered through their prejudices about him.

Four days ago, to some mild backlash in the responses, Dale Jr. tweeted "Don't change @KyleBusch The sport needs personalities. All types."

Even if he had that second chance to make a first impression, Kyle's personality isn't for everyone. But I do respect him for his self-awareness, especially after that interview yesterday (you thought I got off on a tangent and forgot to talk about the interview, didn't you?).

He said:

"Different people show their emotions in different ways. Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious, and I don't know that it ever will be.

"I'm kind of learning that as the days go on. My son is 2 years old. I see where it came from. It's genetics. I'm sorry. It's just who I am. That's what I was given. If there is anybody to blame, it's probably the guy upstairs.

"I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don't know. It is the way it is. I've been fortunate enough to have been blessed to be in the opportunity that I'm in. I've got great sponsors and partners that are with me, and they've stuck with me through a lot worse than what happened this week and that's through relationships.

"Those people that are close to me, understand me and know me and know who I am outside the race track as a personable person, as a friend. That's why I'm able to continue to have the relationships and that sponsorships that I do."

It was thought out but not scripted. The kind of real emotion racing fans say they want to see, but always seem to reject when they're actually confronted with it.

Kyle will probably never win over a lot of the fans who have been hating his guts since the day they learned his name, but I've noticed that he's gaining a lot of sympathy from a segment of fans who see his haters piling on every tweet about him and think, "man, this guy gets treated like shit for doing exactly what these fans say they want drivers to do."

This is exactly the reason I started to like Kyle a few years ago. Personally, I prefer people who are more laid back, but in Kyle's case I feel bad for the guy who's giving the fans what they want and can't get any respect in return.

Even if you really hate him, and hopefully you're honest about why you hate him, you've got to know that the sport would be boring without a good villain for your favorite guy to occasionally win against. Yes, NASCAR needs all types of drivers if it's going to attract and keep the attention of all types of fans.

Love him or hate him, NASCAR needs Kyle Busch.

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