Is Kyle Busch Now Winning Fans As Well As Races?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 4 2023

Kyle Busch was actually cheered by fans last weekend. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

It was a weird sight watching Kyle Busch motor around Auto Club Speedway in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet last Sunday.

Even weirder was what happened after Busch won the NASCAR Cup Series race that day: the driver whom fans love to hate was cutting the figure of a driver who fans love to love.

That’s right, the Southern California crowd, billed as a sellout because of  it being the final event at the 2-mile oval before being relegated to dust, offered up more cheers than disgusting catcalls for Busch.

Must have been kinda humbling for a guy who bills himself as “Rowdy” and who has long returned the contempt heaped upon him from fans by giving them equally contemptuous from-the-waist bows and cry-baby eye-drying gestures.

Not that it completely humbled him.

“Yeah, man,” Busch said in his post-race presser when asked about the cheers. “Rowdy Nation is growing, loud and proud. Watch out, we’re going to take over.”

Busch has been a polarizing figure since, basically, he entered NASCAR in 2001 as a Truck Series driver for Jack Roush.

His talent quickly became evident as he won five races in the Xfinity Series in 2004 and two in Cup the following year, all for Rick Hendrick and all before his 21st birthday.

The Las Vegas native would go on to win 60 Cup races, 102 Xfinity races and 62 times in a truck. All those victories spread across NASCAR’s top three series is unmatched.

Twice, he has won Cup championships – in 2015 and 2019, though with his natural talent, he probably should have won more.

What he had never won was the love of fans. Their respect? Hopefully. But never their love.

You have to wonder why. NASCAR fans have traditionally loved bad boys. Geez, the most popular driver in the history of the sport was nicknamed “The Intimidator”. Dale Earnhardt was absolutely loved because of talent that led to 76 Cup victories and seven championships, but he was also loved by the way he won all those trophies – by being a roughnecked, man in black anti-hero.

Busch never came off like that. He came off as a bit of an arrogant punk. His smirk was a smirkier then E’s. His Busch Bow to the fans was not a salute as much as a gesture to buzz off. Perhaps it was all insecurity. Perhaps it was an act. Perhaps it was genuine arrogance.

Whatever. It not only didn’t fly with fans, it never emerged from the hangar.

One has to wonder if what happened after the victory in Fontana marks a changing point in his relationship with fans. One that is a result of sudden maturity. Or because of whatever it was that went sour at JGR. Maybe he realizes time is running out on winning a third Cup championship.

Or because Busch opted to sign on with Richard Childress, the owner most associated with Dale Earnhardt.

Busch wasn’t all arrogance after Fontana. He actually seemed a tiny bit moved with his reception.

“It’s just fun to see them and to give them something to cheer for again and to have an opportunity like today to win a race this early in the season get everybody juked up and excited and also continue to hopefully have more races like this where we’re able to win, get some of those playoff points, kind of stockpile them a little bit so we can have a good time at the end of the year,” Busch said.

Kyle Busch has now won at least one race for 19-straight seasons. He’s surpassed Richard Petty in the category. In discussing that, he sounded even less the iconoclast.

Petty “and I were tied at 18. There’s not very many records that you can beat that Richard Petty has, and certainly that was one that I set early on a long, long time ago that I always wanted to achieve and get, so I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to set that bar and would love to continue to keep raising it.”

Busch, at 38, is now likely in the Playoffs. And in position to earn his third championship.

He is also in position to earn something that Earnhardt had – the admiration and respect of race fans.

We won’t know much about that this weekend as the racing is in Busch’s hometown of Las Vegas. He’s alway been respected there. Phoenix is next on the schedule, a place of mixed feeling toward the Busch brothers. Cheers there would up the how-interesting factor and may five a glimpse of how “Rowdy’s” career will be viewed by posterity.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 4 2023
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