NASCAR: Kyle Busch sweeps aside critics with Bristol Motor Speedway domination

By Jonathan Ingram, The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 21, 2017 at 4:20 PM
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Kyle Busch has fully arrived as the driver who most divides NASCAR fans -- in case anybody hasn't noticed. Instead of working his way around it or talking about the haters, these days he's embracing the boos as well as the cheers.

Following a remarkable second three-race sweep at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch used a broom to sweep the roof while standing on top of his Toyota after Saturday's Cup victory. It was a celebration for his fans and an intended aggravation to those who would prefer to see him lose.

In the winner's interview, Busch acknowledged that he's given up on trying to quell the boo-birds and instead will cater to his following that he has dubbed Rowdy Nation.

"Don't matter what I do, what I say, how much I try to change," Busch said. "You don't change perception. People have whatever perception it is on you.

"To me, I don't know that it's necessarily whether or not you have the most fans or the most followers. To me it's just about being able to go out there and put on a show for those that are buying tickets and being a part of it."

Following his truck victory and another in the Xfinity race, Busch was masterful in commanding the Monster Energy Cup Series race in a duel over the last 100 laps against rookie Erik Jones.

If there has been a knock against Busch, it has been that he sometimes melts down during adversity -- whether in a race or the crucial stages of championships. But on Saturday night, he didn't overcook his tires and accepted a longer final pit stop as necessary to get the right set-up for the final 79 laps of green.

Busch might have won a second consecutive championship last year had he and crew chief Adam Stevens been more consistent during the final round of the playoffs at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. He again will enter the postseason that starts in mid-September as one of the favorites along with this year's standouts, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson, plus perennial favorite Jimmie Johnson.

When Busch won what is now called the Monster Energy Cup in 2015, he had broad support due to his remarkable, determined and brave comeback from grievous lower leg and foot injuries. Since then, the attitude of fans seems to have returned to a norm -- they have been booing Busch since he was a rookie. Unfortunately for Busch, he entered the Cup series full time the year after his unpopular brother Kurt won a championship driving for Jack Roush. Heck, said Kyle Busch, they booed him as a teenager in the Xfinity series simply because of his last name.

Initially, the younger Busch's nickname was "Shrub" until he started winning Cup races at age 20. Now, he gets a lot of single-finger salutes and prefers the nickname Rowdy.

"You know what, there was this guy that was at one of my hospitality appearances today," said Busch. "He was giving me the bird the whole time. 'Yeah, I know I'm No. 1.' I've been No. 1 the past two nights. He gave me two. You know what, you're already solidifying what I already know."

Those two salutes summarize the biggest issue some fans have with Busch. They don't like the way a veteran like him runs so many races in the lower ranks. They think he's picking on drivers with less experience or talent or, in some cases, lesser equipment. But Busch believes the preliminaries help him when it comes to the Cup races and has no regrets, especially on a night when he finished a second sweep at Bristol, the first coming in 2010.

"I'm sure they're still booing, whining and crying all the way home tonight," Busch said of the naysayers. "They're driving home mad, so people be careful."

Rookie Jones was beside himself that he won the pole and led the most laps but failed to post his first Cup victory. That didn't prevent him from admiring Busch's three-peat for three different teams and crew chiefs.

"He's a hard-core racer," Jones said. "He really commits himself to that. He does a really good job. He doesn't let it affect his Cup racing at all. It's pretty impressive that he doesn't let it affect it."

One could argue that Busch does let the preliminary events sometimes influence him. It could be part of the reason why he sometimes gets frustrated during Cup races, which are not as easy to dominate as the steppingstone series.

If this past week's run at Bristol is any indication, Busch has steadily built himself into a more reliable guy in the cockpit, one who remains undeterred by setbacks, errors or frustrations. Maybe it was just a perfect scenario that unfolded at Bristol, but one gets the impression that Busch was cool and calculated throughout the event and rose to the occasion when it counted.

There's not much doubt he has enormous talent.

"Tonight, I've never driven so hard in my life the last 60 laps," he said. "Literally I got out of the car and felt like I didn't want to. It was really, really hard to maintain that pace up top and to feel everything you're feeling and to trust yourself that I'm feeling the car loose getting into the corner sliding the rear tires, but I'm tight in the center. Got to go up on the rear track bar, keep the thing free rolling.

"Any little moment, any little slip, you can be right in the fence, especially running that high that fast, knowing that Erik Jones was catching me. I couldn't just sit there and pace myself. It was all she was worth."

The upcoming postseason offers Busch a chance to win a second title by age 32. That leaves plenty of time for him to enter the pantheon of greats who have won three or more titles. Meanwhile, reaching the unofficial benchmark of a combined 200 victories in NASCAR's three major series -- he now has 180 -- almost seems a foregone conclusion.

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