/headshot.jpg” width=”137″ height=”120″ /> By Patrick Reynolds
Kurt and Kyle Busch have made plenty of NASCAR headlines in the last month. And for all of the wrong reasons.
Kyle lost his temper last month during the Truck Series race in Texas and intentionally crashed Ron Hornaday. Busch felt wronged in an incident earlier that lap and was dishing out his own form of justice.
Kurt jumped in front of the magnifying glass when an early race mechanical failure in Miami put his car in the garage and his temper was also lost. An in-car television camera shot showed Busch raising his middle finger. A short time later a personal video recorder captured Busch’s profanity-filled rant while waiting to do a television interview.
Both men suffered severe consequences.
Kyle was prohibited from driving in competition for the remainder of the Texas weekend. There were supposedly internal sanctions from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kurt was released from the Penske organization earlier this week.
Neither repercussion seemed to be a result of the incidents. Rather the incidents seemed to be the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back. Each man has a history of behavior unpopular with many fans, from Kyle’s post-race smart-aleck interviews, to Kurt’s degrading his pit crew over his team’s radio. Some people in authority decided enough was enough.
Each man also has a history as two drivers you shouldn’t take your eyes off of in a race.
Both are exceptional racecar drivers. Kyle has multiple wins in multiple divisions inside and outside of the NASCAR sanction. Kurt is the 2004 Cup Series Champion.
When I think of the brotherly pair, I raise questions that I find difficult for me or anyone I know in racing to come up with an accurate answer.
The questions are: Do the drivers of today act different with these fits of rage than drivers of generations ago?
Or: Do drivers of today act the same as generations ago, but does today’s society simply have electronic and social media recording every moment and instantly broadcasting it to millions of judgmental viewers?
One of the best and most respected drivers of all time was A.J. Foyt. There are many bench racing tales of Foyt flying off the handle and even some older television interviews of him losing his cool. With less electronic technology to record so many instances of life 30 or 40 years ago, was Foyt different than either Busch brother? I am honestly asking. Can anyone tell me for sure?
What of so many other heroes from my youth? Petty? Allison? Andretti? Pearson? Each is held in the highest regard. Did they have plenty of patience and understanding to accompany their talent?
There were far less video and audio recordings of every moment within a track’s garage area every weekend. Did these men act differently than the Busch brothers? Or are we simply seeing more of a driver’s instant emotions?
One major difference between “then and now” is corporate sponsorship. The seven-figure salaries today’s drivers make, that the legends did not, comes with a price of its own. Professional and proper behavior is required at all times. That aspect bleeds into fan’s complaints of boring and vanilla drivers. Which cycles us back to the Busch brothers, who are anything but bland.
I have seen Kurt in person but have never had any significant personal one-on-one time with him.
I have met Kyle for a few relaxed one-on-one moments. Our conversation was pleasant and he was quite friendly and welcoming. The younger Busch also granted his blessing for a story I wrote featuring his short track late model for Speedway Illustrated a few years ago.
NASCAR races are far more interesting with the pair in the field. But somehow the sport’s other stars of today keep their competitive fire red-hot without repeatedly making foolish and embarrassing decisions week after week.
If their driving talent could be harnessed and focused into positive energy without regressing into childlike behavior, the potential is there for domination.
NASCAR could use more guys with their fire and desire. But the sanctioning body could do without the tantrums.
The driving talent of the Busch brothers is unquestioned. Their behavior is.