Busch brothers primed for big season
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The Brothers Busch must be doing something right. Even Kevin Harvick, long the leading Busch-basher in NASCAR, is speaking reverently of their winning streak.
"You can't do anything but respect them because of the fact that they're so good on the racetrack," said the same Harvick who, for instance, once said his greatest regret of his career so far was that "I haven't whupped Kurt Busch's butt."
"They're both very talented people," said Harvick-on-the-Busches Version 2.2. "Maybe a lot of people don't really see eye to eye with what they say or do, but you can't argue with the fact that they're very successful on the racetrack.
"And I think it can continue."
The Busches, having won the past three straight Cup races -- two by Kyle to sandwich one by Kurt at Atlanta -- now try to tie the record for brotherly streaks (four), which they already share with the Flock brothers -- Bob, Fonty and Tim -- of the 1950s. The Busches got their four straight last summer.
Sunday's Goody's 500 may be a stumbling point, on tiny, flat, paper-clip-shaped, 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway.
Here, Kurt has only one win, in 2002, and Kyle has only a mental block.
"I don't have any success here yet," Kyle said. "I don't feel comfortable here. I'm not very good here yet."
Yeah, well, he was supposed to be weak on road courses, too, until he won at Sonoma, Calif., in June 2008. And his Joe Gibbs Racing team has brought its latest package for ultra-short tracks and road racing here.
And Kurt gets a major advantage in track position, starting on the outside of the front row beside Jeff Gordon, with the order determined by points due to Friday's rainout of qualifying.
Kyle gets to start a decent fourth.
There's the potential for sibling fireworks, in that the Busches don't always get along -- witness their wrecking each other out of the 2007 All-Star race, and mutual thinking, a la Harvick, of whupping each other's butts.
Their shared streak, and being mentioned together in media reports lately, "doesn't necessarily draw us any closer, and it doesn't necessarily draw a fire between us," said Kyle, 23.
Kurt, 30, is too much older for them to have had much of a sibling rivalry growing up -- but now there is one.
"Just being seven years apart, I felt like I never had a challenge from him," Kurt said. "And now I can say that. Because he is definitely a challenge, on and off the track, we could say."
He meant Kyle's candor off the track, such as Kyle's remark Friday that "I'm proud of the fact that I'm outperforming a guy who replaced me at Hendrick [Motorsports]," referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
On the track, Kurt said, "We both want to beat each other, we both want to race each other hard, but I think we're both the first to congratulate each other when we do win. It's just a really neat thing that's happened for our family."
Actually, the Busch boys don't see each other often enough off the track to be able to tell whether the streaking has brought them closer or made them more competitive.
"He's always off doing his thing," Kyle said of Kurt, "and I'm always off doing my thing. Sometimes we're never in the same area.
"Like last Wednesday night -- there's an RC [remote control] car track in Charlotte. I went and was there a little bit, and he showed up about 10 minutes after I left.
"So we were close to meeting up, but missed by a little bit.
"But we don't really sit down and talk about the success and all that stuff. Grandma likes to. She likes to see it. She's probably the most pumped about it. Mom, she's scored the most victory-lane hats so far this year. So she's pretty proud of us, too."
Not since Tim Flock raced with a live monkey riding in his car, and older brother Fonty drove in Bermuda shorts, have brothers caused such stirs in the grandstands, but the Busch brothers may have the sibling record for being booed.
Kurt has been catching fans' wrath for years, and Kyle's notorious bow-taking after his victories has brought the thunder down on him.
But things are turning around. On Thursday, Kyle was doing a promotional "race" on the Beltway around Washington, D.C., for a local radio station, and callers would tell how "I'm a lifelong fan of [fill in the blank] driver," but now, "I'm a Kyle Busch fan. I never thought I'd say that, but '"
"When people have a lot of success, people either love 'em or hate 'em -- nobody sits on the fence about 'em," Jeff Burton said. "There's as much energy for pulling against a guy who's winning as there is for pulling for a guy who's winning."
Matt Kenseth was the guy with the streak, two in a row to open this season before the Busches took command.
"I think Kyle proved last year [with eight wins] that he can win at any racetrack, every week," Kenseth said. "Everybody's known Kurt can do it from when Kurt was [a Kenseth teammate] at Roush. Kurt had a real good relationship there with [crew chief] Jimmy Fennig. Their personalities worked so well together, it was kind of magic.
"It's taken Kurt a while to get that back at Penske," Kenseth continued. "Certainly, if he can get that kind of relationship going with Pat [Tryson, Kurt's current crew chief] and they can get their stuff running good enough, Kurt's more than capable of winning every week, too.
"So they certainly could keep winning."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.