Brace for Kyle Busch: The Ride
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kyle Busch's Nationwide Series team wasn't sure where to find the car after Saturday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Their driver was so upset that a late pit-road penalty cost him the victory that he parked in Turn 3 and stormed through the tunnel out of the track.
His Sprint Cup team comprised of most of the same people had no problem finding the car after Sunday's race.
It was in Victory Lane.
The frustration Busch felt 24 hours earlier was replaced by a huge smile. The angry comments to his pit crew ("Y'all suck!") were replaced by praise ("Way to go, boys!").
Yes, "Rowdy" Busch's emotional roller-coaster ride of a season continues. The win was his second in the past three Cup races and fifth between the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series.
It's reminiscent of the roll he got on last season when he won 21 races between NASCAR's top three series, including eight in Cup to give him a commanding points lead before misfortune in the Chase made him an also-ran.
Here's a scary thought: His second win last season didn't come until the ninth race at Talladega.
Here's a scarier thought: He never seemed happy with the car Sunday, complaining practically every lap about air pressure or something. During a caution with about 50 laps to go, he sounded as though he couldn't make it around the half-mile track another time.
Said crew chief Steve Addington, "We're pulling away. That was the fastest lap we've run at the beginning of a run all day."
Replied Busch: "We're fine. Let's get done and do our deal."
Now here's an even scarier thought: The mental toughness some questioned last season when mechanical failures during the first two Chase races knocked Busch out of the points lead appears rock solid.
Reigning three-time Cup champion Johnson saw it throughout on Sunday. He was particularly impressed with the way Busch battled the lapped car of Travis Kvapil for what seemed like 40 or 50 laps.
"I watched his patience," Johnson said. "I kept waiting for a meltdown, but he didn't. I thought, 'Man, this kid is getting smart.'"
But can the kid win a title with such a roller coaster of emotion?
"He's 23?" Johnson asked of his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate. "You can see his temper get to him from time to time. He gets out of the car and throws some stuff and doesn't say the right thing. That's cool, but that doesn't mean a lot.
"What I saw today, points where he should have been frustrated, the old Kyle Busch would have wrecked, and he didn't. He's learning his lessons."
Busch's temper tantrums, if that's what you want to call them, don't seem to concern Joe Gibbs Racing management. They pretty much went through it all with Tony Stewart.
You need to have tough skin in this business or do something else. [Kyle] does an awesome job in that car. I know he's trying to win. He just wants us to be that way.” -- Steve Addington
"We haven't had many drivers that weren't like that," team president J.D. Gibbs said with a laugh.
On a more serious note, he added, "I don't think he equates yesterday with today. Each race to him is its own little entity. What he said on the radio, it's like listening to a quarterback or a lineman in the middle of the game. Some stuff comes out that the rest of the world isn't supposed to hear."
The irony of Sunday's win was it came down to a pit stop for the second straight day. Unlike Saturday, when a runaway tire took Busch out of the lead on the final stop, his crew got him in and out of the pits in front.
And Busch let them know it was all on them well before that.
"The second-to-last pit stop when I went from second [place] to Denny to third, I told the ladies to man up and get the job done on the last stop," Busch said matter-of-factly. "I'm proud of that."
And for the record, he wasn't ashamed of what he said Saturday.
"You'll have some days when guys on pit road have a day off," Busch said. "I have those days. Yesterday was one of those days, and it cost us a win. Today was a good day when everybody did their job and the last stop was smooth."
Addington talked to his crew to make sure there were no bruised egos before the race. Busch didn't think it was necessary for him to say anything, suggesting they should have known he would react that way.
"If they don't know that, then they don't need to be working for me," he said. "These guys are great. They appreciate what I do behind the wheel. I appreciate what they do on pit road."
In all fairness, Busch's relationship with the No. 18 team -- as it has been with every crew he's had -- is special. He takes them out to dinner and stops by the shop for pep talks at random times.
But this one is particularly special because of the struggles the team went through before he arrived.
They would much rather have the driver yelling at them for a mistake and celebrating victories than have Mr. Congeniality behind the wheel and finish in the middle of the pack as they were.
"You need to have tough skin in this business or do something else," Addington said. "[Kyle] does an awesome job in that car. I know he's trying to win. He just wants us to be that way."
The great thing about Busch, if one likes brashness, is he says whatever he thinks. He took a shot at NASCAR's most popular driver Sunday when it was suggested he was closing in on Dale Earnhardt Jr. in souvenir sales.
"We all know who is No. 1, forever will be," he said. "For me, my goal is to be No. 1 on the racetrack."
In other words, Busch will take the chorus of boos he received during his victory laps over the fan mail Earnhardt will get after finishing 14th.
"I don't think I would enjoy having the most fans out there," Busch said. "I actually like the way I am, the role I portray. There's too much pressure on one guy's shoulders who doesn't seem to win very often."
Pressure doesn't seem to bother Busch at the moment, which has to send a message to the rest of the field.
"There's no doubt the kid is getting stronger and stronger," Johnson said. Or as team owner Joe Gibbs said, "Kyle gets it."
Whether he'll get a title this year remains to be seen. But he's certainly on that path again.
It's just a matter of where the roller coaster stops.
The guess here is Victory Lane more times than in the middle of Turn 3.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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