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Kurt Busch, Too, Has Matured Into A Contender

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2010

Kurt Busch is making headlines for all the good reasons in NASCAR these days. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

One of the most hammered upon stories of the year as been the maturation process of Kyle Busch. You know: He is racing so much better in 2010 because he has a new attitude – a more mature attitude.

Busch himself has credited Mark Martin with standing as a role model for all this.

And while Martin is certainly a worthy model, Busch probably could have found inspiration within his own family because brother Kurt Busch, once the wild man of NASCAR, has become an upright citizen thanks to his new look on life.

In the process, Kurt Busch has also become a popular pick to unseat Jimmie Johnson as Sprint Cup champion.

Remember the old Kurt Busch? The punkish ranting? Remember the pointing at his butt? Remember Jimmy Spencer punching the trash-talking Busch in the face though the window of Busch’s car in a semi-successful effort to pull the plug on it all?

And remember how he got busted for driving his personal vehicle around the roads outside Phoenix International Raceway and was arrested by the Maricopa County sheriff’s department?

Kurt Busch remembers. All of it.

And now, with the benefit of age, he shrivels at the thought.

“Reviews came in negative,” Busch said. “For me, that’s not how I wanted to be remembered, how I wanted to be looked at, sitting there on the porch talking with my grandkids about things.”

Busch clearly had the driving-the-race-cars-fast part of the gig nailed when he arrived on the NASCAR scene. In his first year, 2000, he won four Camping World Truck Series races and finished second in points.

His truck owner, Jack Roush, was so impressed, he moved Busch up to a full-time Cup ride in 2001. In 2002, Busch finished third in Cup points. Two years later, Busch won the championship for Roush.

He was not winning many friends during those days, however – not in the sport and not in

Kurt Busch has become a listener. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

the Roush shops. In fact, his mouth and his attitude were doing more damage to him than even winning a Sprint Cup championship could repair.

Late in the season 2005 season, Busch signed a deal to move over to Penske Racing to drive the “Blue Deuce” beginning in 2006.

Busch left Roush in less than stylish fashion: He was arrested near PIR.

Just hours after word got around Phoenix that he had been popped, Busch was suspended by Roush for the final two races of the season.

Asked at PIR the weekend of Busch’s arrest and suspension his thoughts about Busch, Roush said that all of that was now Roger Penske’s problem.

But Busch has been anything but a problem at all for “The Captain”. In his four-plus seasons with Penske, Busch has been a solid citizen and an increasingly steady performer on the track. A team player.

He still takes a great deal of pride when he talks about a race he did not win but in which he played the role of ultimate teammate – the 2008 Daytona 500, which was won by Penske’s Ryan Newman.

“We won the Daytona 500 together,” he says. “Ryan Newman did, I pushed him to try to help do it. I always feel like I got a little bit of that win.”

It’s all because Busch didn’t leave Roush empty handed. He took with him the blue prints on how classy drivers conduct themselves during the tough times.

“A guy like Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, and those kind of guys I learned a lot from at Roush Racing when I was having my troubles,” Busch said of his former teammates. “I look up to those guys tremendously. Those guys don’t get a lot of that flash or flair or recognition, but they’re some of the greats in our sport.”

Now, he says, “I’m not one to go out there with a big flash and a big flair. I used to early on. I’d run my head up against the wall.”

It’s tough not to display big flash and big flair when you are holding up a giant check for a million dollars and wearing a big huge ring. And that is what Busch was doing in late May after he won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 there.

“A weekend like this,” he said after the 600, “walking in here today, I looked at this ring, I’ve got the ring from last weekend, we’re going to make a big team ring on the Charlotte sweep weekend and give it to all the Penske employees and commemorate what this means to be able to dominate on two weekends like this in Charlotte. It ranks right up there with one of the championship emotions I had in 2004.”

With the victory in the 600 – which was his second of 2010 in a points race – and the momentum which the All-Star victory gave him, Busch now is getting mention as a top challenger for the season championship.

Busch, the old Busch, might have been mentioning it himself once upon a time.

Not now.

Asked this week what the big 10 days in Charlotte meant, he said, “It means we’re having another pizza party, beer and pizza party, during this week. It’s a week of celebration. It’s a week of some more hard work. We have to continue to stay focused and to get everything as good as we can make it for the next week.”

And he wasn’t pointing at his butt as he said that.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2010