Busch Brothers make NASCAR worth watching
by Vito Pugliese
Of all of NASCAR’s greatest assets, there are two current active drivers who rank near the top of that list — though in some circles, the “t” in “assets” might be removed from that descriptor. Be it on the radio or on pit road, Kyle and Kurt Busch have been the source of many a memorable scene and sound bite over the years. As different as the two Las Vegas, Nev., natives have become, there are some strikingly similar characteristics between the two brothers.
Older brother Kurt burst onto the scene in the 2000 season, replacing then-driver Chad Little in Jack Roush’s No. 97 John Deere Ford for seven races. He promptly managed to piss of NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Rockingham, and was thrust into general American conscious while giving an explanation of his on-track tiff with Junior as part of MTV’s “Real Life” series about Driver 8.
It would be two years, with his backside-slapping and pointing to Jimmy Spencer at the 2002 Brickyard 400, and “decrepit old has-been” blast that followed shortly thereafter, when he became a fixture as one of NASCAR’s more “entertaining” characters.
While Kurt’s NASCAR past is as colorful as his bright yellow and red Shell Dodge Charger, his radio traffic the past few years has been as well, peppered with enough F-bombs and salty language to make Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey blush. Here are some highlights:
After being struck while leaving his pits at New Hampshire in 2009 after disagreeing with the decision to stop, and suffering significant right side damage to his car:
Spotter: “Uh, I can’t see the right side from here …”
Kurt Busch: “We’re on the f***in’ back straightaway, f***in’ Einstein!”
Dover 2010, after being penalized for speeding entering pit road:
“It’s gotta be about f***in’ half way, that’s when we usually FALL APART.”
Pocono 2010, after hitting the wall off of Turn 2:
“Just got in the wall pretty hard, f***ed it all up … not that it was any good anyway.”
“I’d love to hit the fence right now, head-on, and get knocked out because this is f***in’ bull****.”
"We look like a monkey f***in’ a football. The f***in’ Penske cars are a f***in’ joke. f*** everybody! F***!"
Crew chief Steve Addington, prior to a pit stop: “You want to put a round of wedge in it?”
Kurt Busch: “Go ahead … knock yourself out …”
Where else are you going to get this kind of comic relief in motorsports?
To Kurt’s consternation, it has been a perplexing state of affairs at Penske Racing. For the team that started with dominant performances at Daytona, it has dropped from leading the point standings to eighth in the last six races. The No. 22 Dodge has shown no signs of being anything more than a mid-pack car, finishing in the top 10 just once during that time frame — a 10th at Texas in early April.
While the struggles of Dodge’s flagship — and arguably only — team in the Sprint Cup Series are less than amusing to the driver, a timely Kurt Busch freak-out broadcast across the airwaves always provides more than enough fodder for discussion. The focus of the latest freak out — at Richmond — was directed at Penske Technical Director Tom German, who has announced he is to leave the organization at the end of this month to enroll at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Team beratement aside, Kurt has also had some run-ins along the way (besides his notorious tiffs with Spencer). He and Jimmie Johnson have had a couple of on-track dust-ups the last few seasons. He’s also scrapped with Tony Stewart — a longtime Kurt antagonist — which resulted in a punch being thrown in the NASCAR hauler at Daytona in 2008 after an incident … in practice … for an exhibition race!
Who else elicits this type of reaction?
His brother Kyle, naturally.
While Kurt was coming into his own in NASCAR (and developing a reputation), there was always talk surrounding his younger brother, Kyle. While Kurt was seen as outspoken, even arrogant, the common response was, “If you think he’s bad, wait until you see his little brother.” While Kurt has made a career out of caustic — if not grammatically jumbled — quotes, Kyle’s highlight reel is one of indelible images of a wildly successful career that is barely six seasons old.
Some of those images include:
• Ripping the radio wire out of the car and storming away after wrecking in the quad oval at Texas in 2007 — only to be replaced by Dale Earnhardt Jr. once said car was repaired. Ironically, it was Junior who hit him, and would eventually replace him in that car at Hendrick Motorsports.
• Upon winning that first Car of Tomorrow race at Bristol in 2007, his synopsis of the car, while confetti rained down in Victory Lane was, “They still suck, I hate driving them.”
• Abandoning his car in anger at a Nationwide race at Bristol in 2009 after the team botched the final pit stop, making them push it back to the trailer.
• Offering a double-barreled middle-finger salute to a NASCAR official at Texas in 2010. For 10 seconds. And caught on ESPN.
• Smashing the iconic Gibson Guitar trophy in Victory Lane at Nashville Superspeedway after the Nationwide race in 2009, to the horror of all in attendance — including the designer of the guitar, Sam Bass.
• His trademark bow after winning races, which thus far include 21 of the Sprint Cup variety, 48 in the Nationwide Series and 26 in the Camping World Truck Series.
• Hooks Kevin Harvick into the wall at Darlington last week, retaliating for Harvick’s actions at Homestead in November 2010 and for “roughing up” Busch twice in the preceding lap. Then plays a game of chicken, in reverse, with Harvick entering pit road. After seeing several red Budweiser uniforms approach him, he pushes Harvick’s unmanned car into the pit wall and leaves — as Harvick gets a punch in through the window.
• Extensive catalog of documented incidents of walking away from perusing cameras and television personalities during post-race/post-disappointment interview attempts.
One of my favorite Kyle moments actually was at Michigan International Speedway in 2008. He was besieged by an over-enthusiastic fan in the garage area who thrust a hat and a Sharpie into his face for him to sign. Busch scribbled his name on the bill, flung it skyward, and bolted towards his hauler. I actually stood there and laughed, while the fan stood dumbfounded as to why he would have done that, after nearly feeding Busch his trucker’s hat to autograph.
Like I said, entertaining at the very least.
In digesting all of this information, you would probably think I have a negative opinion of the Busch Brothers. Far from it. They both are two of the most talented drivers in NASCAR today; Kyle’s record speaks for itself, while Kurt has clearly carried the Penske cars and Chrysler’s involvement in NASCAR’s premier series on his shoulders the last two years. Kyle, meanwhile, looks to tie Mark Martin on the all-times Nationwide Series wins list this weekend at Dover, all by the tender age of 26 (which is exactly half Martin’s age).
And aside from the obvious talent, there is also the human side.
Last year I had the chance to race Kyle in a go-kart event at a promotional appearance. He took the time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with all of his fans, particularly the younger ones clutching No. 18 diecast M&M’s cars, too shy to say anything or make eye contact with their hero. And having had the opportunity to attend many a pre-race driver meetings and the Motor Racing Outreach chapel sessions that follow, one of the drivers that usually stays behind, praying intently, is Kurt, with wife Eva or mother Gaye. Perhaps he was apologizing in advance for the words which would soon flow freely over the radio channels and scanners around the track.
Upon winning his first career Cup race at California in 2005, the first order of business for Kyle upon exiting his car was not to rattle off a bunch of sponsor mentions, but rather announce he was donating his winnings to help the relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Kurt Busch Foundation, meanwhile, is dedicated to assisting those in need of health care, education, career training and rehabilitation. Busch also donated $1.3 million to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2007 to build The Kurt Busch Superdome — a climate-controlled environment for those children who suffer from physical ailments that prevent them from playing outside.
The bottom line with the Busch brothers is that they may be brash, crass and perpetual pains in the ass, but they are also men of good humor and extraordinary talent, whose passion and competitive fire are a throwback to the days when if you didn’t win you might not be eating.
Kurt and Kyle Busch are both refreshing and desperately-needed additions to the NASCAR landscape — because it would be pretty f***in’ boring without them.