Commentary

Kyle Busch a man of his words

Updated: June 6, 2009, 12:34 AM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

One thing about Kyle Busch: You always know where he stands. He's the most honest man in NASCAR.

After races, he either takes a bow or takes a hike. He either wins big and flaunts it, or loses big and stomps away silently.

He ran three races and took three hikes at Dover this past weekend.

You don't see much of him around those second- and third-place news conferences NASCAR makes drivers do in the media centers after races. He doesn't do runner-up very well.

This Cup season he has finished in the top three four times, and three of those were wins.

The rest of the time, his finishes have been in the double digits, except for a sixth-place in the Coca-Cola 600, a race he would have won -- that, or finished in the double digits again -- if not for rain.

He had no choice but to sit on pit road in the drizzle under a red flag and let NASCAR call the 600 after 227 laps of the scheduled 400, with David Reutimann sitting at the front. Of those 227 laps completed, Busch had led 173.

Busch
Busch

If they had gone green again, Busch would have four wins this year -- that, or he would have played hell with the finish, just as he did in the All-Star Race.

Whenever he takes a hike, refusing to speak to the media or even his own public-relations people, it's always obvious why.

In Saturday's Nationwide race, he led at the final restart and got bumped from behind by teammate Joey Logano so that both slid up the track and Brad Keselowski won.

In the Truck race that same evening, a blown tire with 14 laps to go cost Busch a win. In the Cup race, he fought a terrible car up into the top five, only to feel a vibration. (With his experience that weekend, there was reason to suspect it was a bad tire.) It was a rare broken splitter.

Three times, he took a hike. Three times, why not? What could he contribute to the chronicling of the race except some more outrage that his detracting legions would call whining?

Busch will be bashed regardless. The NASCAR public has chosen him as the driver it loves to hate. Give the NASCAR public this: It always picks a really good one to hate, e.g., Jeff Gordon for years, and Dale Earnhardt before that, and Darrell Waltrip before that.

Busch didn't exactly come into Dover with his guns blazing at Dale Earnhardt Jr. He was doing what he was told -- participating in the Friday media conference NASCAR requires of its top 12 drivers in the points standings.

He wasn't taking shots. He was giving honest answers.

In fact, he opened with candor about being robbed by rain at Charlotte: "Hopefully, we don't have a rain-shortened race." He was still stinging from that and made no secret of it.

I guess I started the Earnhardt stuff. My intention was to get a lot of drivers' reactions to the hottest news story of the day by far, Earnhardt's being separated from his cousin and longtime crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., with Lance McGrew as the replacement.

Busch just happened to be the first driver I asked.

"You gotta make the most popular driver in the sport competitive," he said. "So you do what you gotta do, I guess."

Now what about that wasn't true? From team owner Rick Hendrick to NASCAR chairman Brian France to senior statesman Jeff Gordon, they've all been saying the same thing -- exactly the same thing Busch said.

Now, here are some quotes that will bore you because they aren't sexy, but they should be published here to further illustrate his honesty.

Somebody else asked Busch what McGrew might bring to Earnhardt that Eury didn't.

"I don't know," Busch said. "I've never worked with Eury, so I don't know."

See? Candor. If he doesn't know, he'll tell you he doesn't know.

He continued regarding McGrew, "I only worked with him in Nationwide in 2004 [while Busch was at Hendrick]. So the better question to ask might be to Brad Keselowski. He worked with him recently. … I couldn't tell you. I don't know."

Not much news there. So reporters kept pushing for comments on McGrew. What was McGrew like? "Always trying to stay ahead of the curve," Busch said, but added, "just like any other crew chief does."

Still no news. Most of the time, honesty is boring.

But in his tendency to tell not just the truth but the whole truth, Busch added something he does know about McGrew at this time: "He's got his hands full having to deal with what's going on, and if Junior doesn't run well, he's [McGrew] going to be the problem again."

And then: "It's never Junior; it's always the crew chief."

Busch spoke the truth as he saw it, and we all wrote it and/or aired sound bites of it, because the media knew that would be much more interesting to you, the public, than a lot of "I couldn't tell you" or "I don't know" from NASCAR's best and most controversial young driver about NASCAR's most popular driver.

It was very much the same as when he had said at Martinsville, Va., back in March, "I'm proud of the fact that I'm outperforming a guy [Earnhardt] that replaced me at Hendrick."

He had been asked, and he answered. But only the interesting part went out to the world. Chopped off the end was his conclusion, "But that's not what this sport is all about. This sport is to be the most consistent and keep learning and to keep getting better and ultimately to try to win championships."

Even before that, after his win at Bristol on March 22, only the sound bite came out: "There's probably too much pressure on one guy's shoulders who doesn't seem to win very often."

Now what in the world is untrue about that? From anybody but Kyle Busch, that would have been taken as a statement of sympathy.

And it is a fact that, since Earnhardt squeezed Busch out of the Hendrick stable for the start of last season, Kyle Busch has won 11 Cup races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won one.

Busch is asked, and Busch is honest. That's all.

I would rather have one of him as a NASCAR driver than 10 of those who mealymouthed this past weekend about how sometimes you've just got to make changes on a team.

You the public decry the political correctness and the platitudes coming from the mouths of NASCAR drivers. You e-mail me all the time about that.

And then Busch tells you the truth, and you can't deny it, so you e-mail me making fun of Busch's appearance -- and mine, for being the messenger for what he said.

You can call him all sorts of names so terrible that you the plaintiffs sound as though you're in middle school.

But there are two names you never call him, because you know you can't: a phony, or a liar.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.

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