Commentary

Busch puts on another Intimidator-like performance at Darlington

Can anything slow down NASCAR's hottest driver? Bad brakes, dropped lug nuts, a pit-stop penalty and several brushes with the famed Darlington wall couldn't prevent Kyle Busch from dominating Saturday night's Sprint Cup race, writes David Newton.

Updated: May 11, 2008, 2:15 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Kyle Busch spent much of the past week being compared to the late Dale Earnhardt for his aggressive style that cost both him and the son of the seven-time Sprint Cup champion a win last weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

He demonstrated another Earnhardt trait on Saturday night.

The will to win.

The 23-year-old phenom went to Victory Lane for the third time this season in a Cup race and the eighth time in one of NASCAR's top three series, taming the newly paved Darlington Raceway with a comfortable 3.1-second margin over runner-up Carl Edwards.

Not even numerous brushes with the famed Darlington wall, the loss of brakes and a penalty for having a missing lug nut slowed Busch, who extended his points lead to 79 over Jeff Burton with his first Cup win on the eggshell-shaped track Earnhardt called one of his favorites.

He then celebrated with what is becoming his trademark bow from the door of his car in a cloud of burnout smoke, playing up to the crowd's mix of boos and cheers in a way that would have made Earnhardt proud.

And like Earnhardt, who won 76 times, he didn't care that they were booing.

"Not really," Busch said. "I'm here to race. I'm here to win. If I win it must make them more upset and crying on their way back home."

Busch paused and then added, "By the way. Did somebody throw a beer can at me? Next time make sure it's full so I can enjoy it out there."

Yes, Busch is a villain like Earnhardt.

But he's also a winner like the man in black.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainKyle Busch after taming Darlington: "Did somebody throw a beer can at me? Next time make sure it's full so I can enjoy it out there."

"Right now the boos may be louder than the cheers, but at least they're making a lot of noise," third-place finisher Jeff Gordon said. "All I can remember when I came into this sport is riding around Dale Earnhardt and him getting a lot of boos and cheers, and all he cared about was how much noise they made."

Fans may boo Busch, and fellow competitors may sometimes resent his style, but nobody denies he's one of the most talented drivers in the sport.

"I think if he had a choice he wouldn't be the villain," said Gordon, who was Busch's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports before Busch went to Joe Gibbs Racing this season. "I know Kyle's a good guy, and he's an incredibly talented driver.

"He just gets himself into situations that [trouble] just follows him."

That was the case a week ago. Saturday easily could have been Busch's third straight win, but a late crash with Dale Earnhardt Jr. while going for the lead at Richmond on May 3 left him second to Clint Bowyer.

The fallout had fans and media comparing him to Earnhardt Sr., who didn't earn his nickname "The Intimidator" by playing nice.

Gordon hopes Busch takes advantage of the attention he's getting.

"Not that he wants to go crashing Dale Jr. very often," he said. "I don't think that's going to do him any favors. But having a love-hate relationship with the fans is not a bad thing.

"I heard more noise for him tonight than I've ever heard for him."

Much of it came during prerace introductions, when Busch and his once-not-so-popular brother Kurt were introduced at the same time with their mother.

Again, Busch didn't care.

He just came to win, and win he did. The driver known as "Shrub" led a race-high 169 laps, including the final 64. He was so dominant, particularly after pole-sitter Greg Biffle blew his engine, that intimidation wasn't even needed.

Survival was.

Busch hit the wall at least five times, turning the right side of his No. 18 car into a mass of mangled sheet metal. But it never slowed him down on a new surface that created speeds faster than NASCAR's oldest superspeedway has ever seen.

Busch said the surface made it an aero race.

Gordon disagreed.

"I can't tell you how many times he tried to give this race away by slamming the wall," Gordon said. "His right side was destroyed. So I know it wasn't aerodynamics."

Edwards agreed.

"Kyle had the fastest car," he said. "I mean, he was pretty unbeatable."

Busch didn't seem so convinced during the race. When he lost his brakes about 130 laps in, he said it was "the most pathetic thing I've seen in my whole life."

Crew chief Steve Addington seemingly spent as much time calming his driver down as making adjustments to the car. But he never took the whining and complaining personal, not like the fans do.

"His personality fits in with our race team," Addington said. "That's all I worry about."

The bottom line: Busch won because he can't stand to lose.

He spends more time thinking of the races he hasn't won this season than the ones he has. But like Earnhardt Sr., Busch appreciates the wins and doesn't take them for granted. He's not so cocky that he comes to the track every week expecting to win.

But he does want to win -- badly.

"I wouldn't say I'm not impressed with what I've done," Busch said. "I'm very grateful and humble that I've been able to win six weeks in a row [including a Late Model race in Richmond], but there could have been more.

"You've got to stay humble in this sport. Anything can come out and bite you, especially at Darlington. It tried five times."

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

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