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Kyle Busch's apology to Hendrick teammates a class act

7/30/2007 - NASCAR

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyle Busch was in the middle of a pit road television interview following Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon stopped to congratulate him.

Busch blew him off.

Sound familiar?

Actually, Busch and the four-time Cup champion bumped knuckles, exchanged low fives and laughed about their battle for the third and fourth spots over the final laps.

I was real proud of what Kyle did. It showed to me a lot of maturity and it took a big person to do what he did.

Jeff Gordon

There was no animosity.

Nobody blew anybody off.

"Great job!" said Gordon, who finished third. "I thought you had me for sure."

A few weeks ago, Busch stopped to congratulate Gordon during a pit road television interview at Daytona International Speedway. Busch said Gordon blew him off, which Gordon denied and television replays supported.

Busch went on to claim that all of his HMS teammates abandoned him when he had a chance to win and went into a me-against-the-world rant that ticked off more than a few folks at the Concord, N.C., shop.

The 22-year-old Busch, who will move to a new team in 2008 after HMS signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him, continued to talk poorly about his teammates the next week at Chicago.

He even threw crew chief Alan Gustafson under the bus following a Busch Series race.

As Busch said before Sunday's race, he "made a lot of mistakes and opened my mouth too much."

Busch opened his mouth again on Saturday, only in the right way. He apologized to Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears. He also apologized to Gustafson.

He admitted the frustration of being ousted from the organization and the ensuing search for a new team, which appears narrowed to Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Evernham Motorsports, had taken its toll.

It was a classy move by a driver who has shown little class over the past month.

"I was real proud of what Kyle did," Gordon said. "It showed to me a lot of maturity and it took a big person to do what he did. I was really proud of him and it will make a huge difference for the way we race the rest of this season and moving forward."

Perhaps this has been a career-defining moment the way the incident with Phoenix police was to older brother Kurt Busch near the end of the 2005 season. Team owner Jack Roush kicked Kurt, who was on his way to Penske Racing the following season, out of his ride for the final two races.

Much embarrassment ensued over an incident that was blown out of proportion.

Since then the 2004 Cup champion has been, for the most part, a model of good behavior.

Maybe his younger brother will follow suit. He certainly made a good impression on Max Siegel, the president of global operations at DEI, during a Saturday get-together with DEI drivers.

Siegel said Busch showed great maturity, something he's seldom accused of.

I'm still the same old guy. I'm just out there running and trying to finish races up front so I can solidify my chances to make the Chase and try to contend for a championship.

Kyle Busch

"I'm still the same old guy," Busch said. "I'm just out there running and trying to finish races up front so I can solidify my chances to make the Chase and try to contend for a championship. We're not done."

Busch is far from done. He's eighth in points and almost a lock to make the Chase with six races remaining before the top 12 is set.

His fourth at Indianapolis was his fifth top-10 in the last seven races. His worst finish during that stint was a 13th at Chicago.

He got there by being an aggressive driver who, as Kyle Petty said last week, can drive the wheels off a car like nobody else in NASCAR's premier series.

He won't stop doing that just because he's made up with his teammates. He showed that early on Sunday when Jeff Burton got miffed as the two raced harder than Burton thought necessary during a restart.

"The 31 and I battled hard at the beginning of the race just a little bit on one of those restarts and he was upset with me about that," Busch said. "It's racing. You're out there to pass guys. Whoever is in front of you, you pass them.

"And if you're the leader you're going to pass lapped cars. There's always somebody to pass."

That's the attitude that has made Busch, as veteran Mark Martin recently said, the greatest talent on the track today.

Martin hopes to work with Busch next year at DEI, perhaps to get some of his gentleman savvy to rub off and make Busch a more consistent driver.

Busch's future should become clearer by midweek after he completes a visit with EMS owner Ray Evernham.

Wherever Busch lands, he wants to make sure he leaves HMS on good terms. He also knows the more friends he has in the Chase, the better chance he has of winning the championship that remains his immediate priority.

"The biggest thing is just trying to put all that stuff behind us and stay friends," Busch said. "I don't want to leave these guys and have them be my enemies.

"I want to be friends with them. They're great racers and obviously champions, so they run really good every week."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.