When I was young I got to see many different drivers dominate at many different tracks. During the 1990’s I always saw Dale Earnhardt practically own Talladega, right up to the final victory of his career, and life, in 2000. From the late 1990’s to the mid 2000’s, it was Jeff Gordon’s total domination of the road courses.
These days, it’s not just domination of one particular track, it’s the domination across the board of one Kyle Busch.
When he signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, it was like putting peanut butter and jelly together…it clicked. He began dominating not just in Sprint Cup competition, but also in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
This past weekend at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch set two new records in his still young career. In Saturday’s Nationwide race, Busch took his first lead of the afternoon on lap 32. It would also be his last lead of the race as he would not give up the top spot for the remainder of the 300-lap event. He set a new record as he became the youngest driver to eclipse the 10,000-laps led mark in NASCAR. This was his first follow-up from his sweep at Bristol last fall.
Sunday afternoon, Busch came in as the favorite to win, despite his cries that he wasn’t.
But once he took the first lead of the afternoon, it was hard to imagine another driver would overtake his dominance. There were contenders throughout the afternoon, such as Jimmie Johnson and even Kyle’s older brother, Kurt. However, it was simply too much for any driver to overcome.
When Busch took the lead on lap 429 of the 500-lap race, it was all over from there. Even a late caution for a blown engine in Clint Bowyer’s Chevrolet couldn’t keep the No. 18 Toyota from seeing the checkered flag.
It’s not just the domination at the track that is impressive, but it’s how he takes in the crowd reaction. There are plenty of fans that root for him every weekend, but there are more that just don’t like him. He reminds me of how Jeff Gordon was in the 1990’s because of his winning streaks in championships and in races, and is probably the most hated driver by the fans besides five-time defending champion Johnson.
Every time he’s introduced, he’s getting booed by the crowd. It was the same reaction for Gordon between 1997 and 1999, and it didn’t seem to bother him. Three weeks ago, when Gordon took the win at Phoenix, it was a reaction of praise and joy from everyone in the grandstands. You would swear that it would be the first win for Dale Earnhardt Jr. that weekend instead of Gordon’s first in nearly two seasons.
However, when Busch won on Sunday, there were still a lot of cheers from fans, but there were just as many boos. He got drowned out when he introduced himself to the crowd at driver introductions, a unique aspect to Bristol.
His reaction to what the fans said was “Why can’t we just be friends?” Not exactly a great follow-up to his “Oh, you’re so loving it” quote in last year’s fall race.
But it still got a great reaction from the fans, one that we already knew would happen.
This year is another chance for Busch to finally get the Cup championship he has missed out on his first three years with Joe Gibbs Racing. Some people are still wanting to see the “old Kyle,” that gets very emotional, and angry when something goes wrong. His reactions of barging out of a track after a miscue on pit road, or his stone-faced response to obvious questions afterward, have become part of his personality. Him flipping the bird to a NASCAR official not only got him emotional, but it cost him a race and a lot of respect within his own team.
But now, with him getting married during the off season, it’s almost a new Kyle Busch, one that when things don’t go right just walks away and doesn’t get too worked up.
I don’t know what to think because this isn’t the Kyle I’m used to – who would wear his emotions on his sleeve, and would confront a driver without hesitation following an incident. Where is that driver now?
Maybe we will have to wait until someone gets on his bad side again, then Busch’s nickname will come out once more. I’m sure many fans will want to see “Rowdy” once again.
RESULTS: 1-Kyle Busch 2-Edwards 3-Johnson 4-Kenseth 5-Menard 6-Harvick 7-Kurt Busch 8-Biffle 9-Kahne 10-Newman
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Earnhardt Jr 14-Gordon 19-Stewart 21-McMurray 33-Hamlin
CAUTIONS: 10 for 57 laps. Lap 29-35 (#00, 1, 2, 11, 21, 31, 43, 83 accident-FS), 52-56 (Competition), 130-136 (#7 accident-T2), 141-144 (#2 spin-T2), 248-252 (#27, 47 accident-T4), 346-350 (Debris), 429-435 (#34 accident-FS), 438-444 (#1, 4, 5, 21, 29, 33, 42, 71 accident-T3), 452-456 (#5, 38 accident-T4), 459-463 (Oil on track).
LEAD CHANGES: 17 among 8 drivers. Edwards 1-17, Menard 18-52, Kyle Busch 53, Gilliland 54-57, Newman 58-83, Kyle Busch 84-91, Truex Jr 92-154, Harvick 155-191, Johnson 192-247, Kyle Busch 248, Johnson 249-269, Kyle Busch 270-341, Johnson 342-346, Kyle Busch 347, Johnson 348-429, Kyle Busch 430-473, Edwards 474, Kyle Busch 475-500.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 53 Mins, 55 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 91.941 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.946 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Top-12): 1. Kurt Busch, 150 points; 2. Edwards, -1; 3. Stewart, -12; 4. Newman, -12; 5. Menard, -14; 6. Kyle Busch, -17; 7. Johnson, -20; 8. Montoya, -24; 9. Earnhardt Jr, -26; 10. Truex Jr, -27; 11. Martin, -27; 12. Kahne, -28.